Whether for a school bake sale or the office Christmas party, almost everyone tries their hand at cookie baking sooner or later. Many problems encountered by the novice cookie baker can easily be prevented, but it will take a bit of preplanning and organization. If you know the science behind creating a perfect cookie, then you will be able to avoid the problems which can lead to kitchen disasters. By following a few simple cookie rules and tips, your cookies can turn out perfectly every time.
One of the primary complaints when baking cookies is that often the cookies spread out and become too thin. There are several factors which contribute to this. One of the main reasons for cookie spread is scooping the dough when it is still at room temperature or putting the dough onto a cookie sheet that is too warm. When the warm dough is put into the oven, it spreads out before it has a chance to set. In order to prevent this, make sure that you chill your baking pans and your cookie dough before you scoop it out onto the pan. Make sure that you do not keep your cookie sheets on top of the oven while it is preheating and do not reuse the pans before they have had a chance to cool completely. If you need to chill your cookie sheets and dough quickly, put both into the freezer for about 10 minutes. You should be careful about not leaving the pan in the freezer for too long because taking a frozen pan and putting it directly into the oven can damage the metal of the pan and lead to cracks and breakage.
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Another reason behind cookie spread is putting the dough into a cold oven. Remember cold dough, hot oven. You need to make sure to have the oven preheated for at least 10 to 15 minutes before putting the cookies in. You might want to try putting the cookies into the oven at a temperature 25o Fahrenheit higher than the temperature called for in the recipe. Once the cookies are in the oven, you can then turn the temperature down. To be sure that your oven thermostat is correct, invest in an oven thermometer in order to verify that the correct temperature is being reached and maintained.
The third most common reason behind cookie spread is not having enough flour in the recipe. The dough should be stiff, but you should not overmix the flour into the dough since it creates gluten sheets in the dough which will make the cookies tough. Chilling the dough will allow you to use less flour since as the dough rests, the flour will absorb some of the liquid in the dough.
If your goal is to have soft, chewy cookies, the baking method will greatly determine how they turn out. For chewy cookies, you should bake the cookies at 25o Fahrenheit lower than that called for in the recipe. Remove the cookies just as they are beginning to darken. Let them cool on the pan for one minute, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. If your cookies become too crisp, you can soften them by putting them into an airtight container with a slightly dampened paper towel or a slice of apple. When using one of these techniques, it might be best to store the cookies in the refrigerator in order to prevent mold from forming.
Chewy cookies can also be achieved by tweeking the recipe. You should replace some of the white sugar with brown sugar or honey. Should you decide to use honey, keep in mind that you need to reduce the liquid by two tablespoons per cup of honey used. The choice of flour also will make a difference. A low protein flour such as a pastry or cake flour will make your cookies delicate and using all purpose or bread flour will result in cookies which might be too tough and dry.
No matter what happens when you are baking cookies, try out several batches. These general cookie tips might not work for everyone since differences in kitchen temperature and humidity can also have an effect on the end result of baking. If one or two batches do not come out perfectly, you might want to consider crumbling them for an ice cream topping or for use in a cookie crust for a pie. Remember that there are no failures in the kitchen, only unexpected experiment results.
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