Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cookie Baking tips

It's that time of year. There are sweets, treats, cookies, and cakes at the water cooler at work. You've been invited to five cookie swaps. You have another Christmas party to go to and have no idea what to bring besides regifting a bottle of wine. You're surrounded by decadent treats and you're popping way too many candy cane Hershey Kisses. So....join the fun and make your own treats to share with everyone.

It's kind of funny how people are either way into baking, or they're really all set with it and pop by the local grocery store or bakery when they need a treat to share. So, in honor of it being a huge cookie baking weekend, here are some tips to help you ease yourself into the kitchen and give you some confidence to be able to tackle some baking.

1. Always buy unsalted butter. Why? If you buy salted butter, you can't control the amount of salt that's in that butter. If a recipe calls for salt, you can control and add it yourself. If a cookie recipe calls for 1/2 tsp salt and you use salted butter on top of that, you won't get the result you're looking for.

2. When a recipe calls for softened butter, take your butter out of the fridge the night before (if you're baking in the morning) or first thing in the morning and let it sit out at room temperature to soften. Don't throw it in the microwave and try to partially melt it and soften it that way (unless, of course, your recipe specifically calls for melted butter. Why is microwaving it bad? You're heating up the butter. It's likely that you'll be adding egg and other ingredients. Hot or warm butter risks cooking your eggs. Hot butter is also watery and won't allow you to mix your ingredients properly. I always have boxes of butter in the freezer. I take them out, let them defrost and sit on the counter and they're typically soft the touch and mix and cream beautifully.

3. Sift your dry ingredients with a whisk. I was watching some cooking show on Food network. I was a little surprised to see the cook take out a silver sifter and sit there and click the handle a million times to sift the flour. I thought to people really still do that? I will use a sifter if I have powdered sugar thats got a lot of lumps in it and I need it smooth for frosting. But, when a recipe says sift your dry ingredients...I throw them in my Batter Bowl, and whisk them together.

4. Pre-heat your oven for a good half hour. I heard Barefoot Contessa say this. So, I like her and follow her advice. I do have a digital temperature control on my oven, but I do let if preheat, get to the desired temp and let it sit there for 15-20 minutes before I bake. If you think about it, if you've ever had 3 or 4 cookie sheets of cookies to bake. Sometimes the first batch takes 15 minutes, but the other batches may only need 12 minutes. It's probably because your oven wasn't fully heated to the correct temperature.

5. Let your cookie sheets cool completely before you put your cookie dough on them. If you pop cookies out of the oven, put them on cooking racks, then immediately start placing dough on the cookie sheet, you're cookies will be mishapen. Do you ever wonder how people get such pretty uniform, nicely shaped cookies that are blobby weird messes...they put their cookie dough on cooled sheets. If you put your cookie dough a warm cookie sheet, the cookies start cooking prematurely and spreading before they're in the oven. I often take a sheet out of the oven and place them on a cookie sheet to start the cooling process immediately when I 'm in a rush or making a lot of cookies.

6. Sugar isn't considered a dry ingredient most of the time. I had a friend tell me her time saving tip for baking alot of cookies. She would get ziplocs or gladware containers, measure the sugar, flour, salt, baking powder etc. Then, when she went to bake, she'd just throw in the butter and vanilla with it. Almost all cookie recipes typically start off with creaming your butter and sugars, then adding your eggs and vanilla, then adding your dry ingredients. If you skip the creaming of the butter and sugar, your dough will be weird and must harder to mix. Trust me, I've made that rookie mistake!

7. Use quality ingredients. This is probably the difference between a good and great cookie. Sure, Nestle makes every chocolate chip imaginable, but if you're looking to impress, use a good quality chocolate. Go the extra mile and get a Ghiradelli or hit up Whole Foods for some quality chocolate. This goes the same for flour and sugar. For some reason, I tend to stick to Gold's Flour or King Arthur. I only use Domino Sugar. I don't think the Walmart, Aldi, or other store brands come close to matching up. This is especially true when I make frosting...for buttercream, if I need a vegetable shortening, it can only be Crisco. I solely use Domino Powdered sugar. I've tried the Target and Walmart brand and the end result really suffered. The same also goes for extracts. Go for the pure extracts, imitation ones are just that.

8. Lastly.....when your cookies are baking, try to avoid opening and closing the oven door more than once. Use your oven light to see how they're doing. If you constantly open the oven door to check on your cookies, the oven loses heat. You're also allowing cooler air in the oven which can affect the shape of your cookie or make them fall flat or spread more.

So, with all this in mind.....HAPPY BAKING!!! Can't wait to share some pics of my little masterpieces...I've got some good old recipes and a couple new ones I'm trying!

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