Whether you are a beginner or an experienced baker, these tips will help you bake your best cookies ever!
Oven temperature is very important for cookie-baking. If your oven is old, or you aren’t sure the thermostat is accurate, buy an inexpensive oven thermometer. Check the thermometer reading after you pre-heat your oven. If your oven thermostat is inaccurate, for example you have the dial set for 400 degrees and it’s only heating to 370, adjust the oven dial until the thermometer reading in the oven is the temperature your cookie recipe requires. Although you will eventually need to replace a faulty thermostat, an oven thermometer is a cheap, quick-fix to get accurate oven temperature.
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Baking pans really DO make a difference. Professional bakers prefer heavyweight, shiny-surface pans. Flimsy pans and non-stick coatings are in the realm of home bakeware. Invest in professional quality stainless cookie sheets with flat edges. The cost of ingredients for a few batches of ruined cookies easily makes up the price difference between cheap pans and good ones. A note on air-bake layered pans: Regular cookies take longer to bake, the pans tend to warp, and the pans can be more trouble to clean since they cannot be submerged in water. However they are excellent for meringue-type cookies or other low-temperature cookies that you don’t want to brown.
Recommended Reading: Get started with baking by reading our Ultimate Guide to the Best Baking Equipment for Beginners!
Cooling racks are the best way to cool cookies. They fill up quickly, though, and you may find that you run out of room. An alternative to buying additional racks is to sprinkle some granulated sugar on sheets of waxed paper on the counter, and place warm cookies on the sugar to cool. You can sprinkle sugar directly on a clean counter-top, too.
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Follow your recipe instructions about using greased or ungreased pans. The purpose of greasing a pan is to provide a barrier of fat molecules so the dough won’t adhere to the pan. For best results, use solid shortening to grease pans. Apply a very light coating of solid shortening; try using a paper towel to spread it on evenly, just enough to “shine” the pan.
Non-stick spray may seem easy, but it doesn’t always do the job. Non-stick sprays are oils. Sometimes they have emulsifiers and additives that allow the propellant to disperse the oil in tiny droplets. Butter and margarine burn at low temperatures, and are not good for greasing pans. The molecular structures of margarine-type spreads are altered so they are not like natural fats, so they are also not a good choice.
Allow baking sheets to cool between uses. Clean off crumbs, and re-grease with a wipe of the shortening/paper towel if necessary. If the new cookie dough melts when you place it on the pan, the pan is still too warm.
Recipes for rolled-and-cut cookies usually advise refrigerating the dough before rolling. Experiment with your recipe. Well-mixed dough is often fine for rolling immediately; if it doesn’t handle well, then try refrigerating it. One trick for nice rolling-textured dough is to soften the butter at room temperature for at least an hour before you cream in the sugar. Microwaving cold butter to soften it tends to melt it, causing it to separate, or it can change the texture of the butter. Cookie dough needs solid but soft butter with the molecules intact.
Cookie recipes typically begin with, “Cream together butter and sugar.” This means mix the softened butter and the sugar completely. Begin with your mixer on low until the sugar and butter look grainy. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so everything gets mixed in, and then speed up the mixer. When properly “creamed,” butter and sugar will change to a lighter color and a smooth, fluffy consistency. The rest of your dough will be much smoother if you cream properly in the first step.
A common problem with certain cookies, such as chocolate chip, is that they turn out limp or melty. This is usually due to too much brown sugar. Humidity can change the way brown sugar measures, so you may have a great batch one time while the next batch is wonky. Different brands of brown sugar, switching from light brown to dark brown, a fresh box versus one that has been opened, or simply packing the sugar more firmly into the measuring cup can all affect the outcome of the dough. Bake a test pan of cookies, and if the cookies are limp, try blending a small amount of flour into the dough to stiffen it slightly… a quarter-cup of flour may be all you need.
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