For better organization and enjoyment (and a delicious product!), follow these ten tips for cookie baking:
- Organize! Clear your work area before you begin, and get out all the ingredients. Put each one away as you use it, so you don't forget what you've used. Rinse bowls and utensils as you go.
- Read the recipe through before you do anything. As you read, check your supply of staples (flour, sugar, butter) and watch for any unusual steps. For example, if the dough has to chill for 12 hours, you should know this before you start, in case you need the cookies by noon today.
- Insist on good fresh ingredients. Spices lose their flavor over time; if you've had them around since last December, replace them. Unsalted ("sweet") butter is preferable to salted; it is usually cleaner, sweeter, and fresher than salted butter.
- If you forget to soften your butter ahead of time, cut the stick(s) into thin pats and place them on a room-temperature plate. Leave in a warmish spot for 10 minutes or so, until the butter yields to gentle finger pressure. It doesn't have to be squishy soft.
- When a recipe calls for toasted nuts (incidentally, that's 8–10 minutes in a 350ºF oven), make sure they're thoroughly cooled before adding them to dough.
- If you don't already own them, buy yourself a couple of good baking sheets. Thin, flimsy sheets don't diffuse heat well or evenly and can result in scorched cookie bottoms. Tinned steel and anodized aluminum are two good material choices that will last.
- Invest in a heavy-duty stainless steel cooling rack that's large enough to hold 2 to 3 dozen cookies.
- Generally speaking, bake only one sheet of cookies at a time, on the center rack. This allows for the most-even baking.
- If you own only one cookie sheet, cool it to room temperature between batches. This prevents the butter from melting out of the dough and puddling up on the sheet.
- As a rule, let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 1 or 2 minutes, just long enough to firm them slightly and make it easier to slide them off the sheet and onto a rack.
And here's a shipping tip! Most cookies ship well. For best results, however, choose a relatively firm or dense type of cookie. Wrap cookies individually in waxed paper and pack them snugly in a tin. Pack the tin inside a bigger box, cushioned on all sides with additional waxed paper. And it never hurts to be nice to the postal clerk!
See the Related Articles on this page and the Almanac Recipe Archives for all your Cookies and Bars recipes.