Holiday cookies 101
Cookies are coming. Lots of them, dotted with chocolate, drizzled with icing or shaped like friendly gingerbread friends. Nearly everyone can name a favorite that brings back memories of their own childhood holidays, and Pinterest has thousands of new recipes, edging their way onto your “must-bake” list.
Read the Recipe
Have you ever ended up with an entire batch of “oopsies?” Well, slow down, speed baker. We understand that when you want cookies, you want cookies now, but the best way to ensure perfect cookies every time is to read through the entire recipe first. Gather ingredients in order, preheat the oven, and plan out your steps ahead of time. There’s no bigger baking downer than realizing halfway through that you need to refrigerate dough overnight or allow ingredients to slowly reach room temperature.
Speaking of temperature, many recipes will specify a recommended temp for ingredients like eggs, butter or cream cheese. As tempting as it may be, don’t skip this step – ingredients of like temperatures blend and bind more easily. On the flip side, combining hot and cold ingredients without tempering can lead to a complete loss if the combination causes your dough to seize (or your eggs to scramble!)
Thick vs. Thin
Have you ever wondered why some of your cookies come out thinner and crunchier, while some stay thick and chewy? The texture of your cookies depends largely on a few different factors. (Cookie chemistry, coming right up!)
- Crunchy: margarine or butter melt at lower temps than shortening, so they will melt more quickly, causing cookies to spread faster. The result: a crispier cookie. Granulated sugar and yolk-free egg whites will also help keep your cookies on the thinner side.
- Cake-like: Cake flour is the MVP when it comes to cookies with a cake-y texture. A lower-protein content allows more water to escape as steam, causing cookies to rise. A solid fat, like vegetable shortening, will also help cookies to retain their shape longer, spreading less on the pan. (In fact, any chilled dough will spread more slowly, so keep that in mind when thicker cookies are the goal.) The addition of egg yolks, as opposed to egg whites only, are another way to keep cookies rising high.
- Soft and Chewy: The formula here is moisture + density. For a softer, chewier cookie, skip the granulated sugar and opt for brown sugar, honey or molasses. They all absorb more water (even after baking) than granulated sugar, resulting in a denser texture and a chewier bite.
Scoop and sift
Are you a “pinch of this, dash of that” cook? Experimentation is great for regular recipes, but most baking is based in science. Measurements matter and ratios count, so scoop, spoon or weigh those ingredients carefully. And if the recipe calls for sifting, don’t skip it. Sifting can affect the weight of your ingredient by up to 20%. (The same rule applies to packing, as with brown sugar.) For even better accuracy, try using a kitchen scale.
Once you make a recipe a few times, get creative with additions or substitutions, but be careful to only alter one ingredient at a time so you can see exactly how the results differ.
Don't fear the fat
The proper amount of fat ensures the tenderness of a cookie. If you omit the fat, you’ll probably have to increase another ingredient (like sugar) to keep your cookies flavorful. For tender, delicious cookies, leave the fat in and limit portion sizes. Think quality, not quantity!