Who doesn’t love cookies? Baking them is almost as much fun as eating them. Almost. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has ten tips that all cookie bakers should know. And what better time of year to turn on that oven?
1. Organize! Clutter is your worst enemy. You can’t bake if the counter is a mess, the bottle of vanilla extract is hiding, and there’s no place to put the cooling rack. 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.
2. Read the recipe through before you do anything. As you read, check your supply of staples (flour, sugar, butter) and watch for any unusual ingredients, steps, or equipment that might trip you up. 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.
3. Insist on good fresh ingredients. Spices lose their flavor over time; if you’ve had them around since last December, replace them. Use fresh local eggs if you can find them. Unsalted (“sweet”) butter is preferable to salted; it tastes cleaner, sweeter, and fresher than salted butter—and often it is. Because salt acts as a preservative, salted butter can be warehoused longer than unsalted.
4. Butter needs to be at room temperature, not too cold or your cookies will be too dense. 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 gently finger pressure. Not too soft or it won’t hold up and make a greasy dough instead of a fluffy dough. Even if a recipe calls for softened butter, it doesn’t have to be squishy soft.
5. When a recipe calls for toasted nuts (incidentally, that’s 8 to 10 minutes in a 350 degree F oven), make sure they’re thoroughly cooled before adding them to dough. Adding hot nuts to a dough could melt the butter and drastically change the texture of your cookies, probably not for the better.
6. 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. Neither is inexpensive, but they’ll last. Look for them in gourmet kitchen shops. While you’re there, invest in a heavy-duty stainless steel cooling rack that’s large enough to hold 2 to 3 dozen cookies. Letting your cookies cool directly on the hot pans can lead to over-browning on the bottoms as well as soggy cookies.
7. Generally speaking, bake only one sheet of cookies at a time, on the center rack. This allows for the most-even baking.
8. If you own only one cookie sheet, make sure to let your sheet trays completely cool it to room temperature before baking another match on them. This prevents the butter from melting out of the dough and puddling up on the sheet.
9. As a rule, let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 1 to 2 minutes, just long enough to firm them slightly and make it easier to slide them off the sheet and onto a rack.
10. 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.
Cooking With the Almanac
Enjoy this video demonstrating some of the cooking baking tips—and get into the spirit!
Ready? Browse Our Delicious Cookie Recipes
Now see some delicious cookie recipes and enjoy trying out your baking skills!