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I'm not sure my mother really understands just what her cooking means to me. It represents everything warm and good and cozy.”
Carmen Jackson CroftonWashington Post, 1999
Tips and Techniques for Better CookiesHow to Troubleshoot CookiesSave Time with No-Bake Cookies (with Recipes)The Joys of Refrigerator Cookies, and more . . .
Unless stated otherwise, this material is the property of The Prepared Pantry and provided as a courtesy for private use only. It may not be used for commercial purposes or published without the written consent of the owners. It may be copied and shared with others for their private use only. By receiving and retaining this material either from The Prepared Pantry or from an intermediate party, the recipient agrees to use this only for private and not for commercial purposes. All rights reserved, © 2004, The Prepared Pantry, unless noted otherwise. The Prepared Pantry, www.preparedpantry.com, Rigby, Idaho.
Tips and Techniques for Better Cookies
Cookies are wonderful concoctions of flour, sugar, and a fat—usually butter and eggs. To these basic ingredients, we add fruit, nuts, and flavors. If we start out with compromised ingredients, the cookies from any recipe will be inferior. Sugars
not only sweeten, they add moisture and tenderness to the cookie and help the cookie brown. Always use the type of sugar called for in the recipe. Since superfine sugar melts faster than does granulated, it will create more spread. Brown sugar adds a caramel flavor and more moisture than granulated. Powdered sugar has added cornstarch and makes a firmer, drier cookie.
Measure sugar in measuring units designed for dry ingredients. For white sugar, use a knife to level the top of the measure. Pack brown sugar firmly into the measuring unit.
Always use fresh, soft, brown sugar. Hardened brown sugar will not add enough moisture to the cookie. An old trick to soften brown sugar is to add a slice of bread to the container. Since sugar is hygroscopic, that is it attracts moisture, it will draw the moisture from the bread. In a day or two, the sugar will be soft and you can throw the bread away.
Use good quality, fresh flour. If your bag of flour has been sitting open too long, it may be dry or taste stale.
For a more tender cookie, use pastry four. For a chewier cookie, use bread flour. All-purpose flour is the middle of the road and suitable for most cookies.
Measure flour as you would white sugar, in a dry measure and scrape the top off with the back of a knife. Do not dip the measure into the flour. Flour packs easily and scooped flour results in too much flour for the recipe. Whisk or sift the flour to lighten it and then carefully spoon the flour into the measure.
Nothing tastes like butter. It contributes much of the flavor that we love in cookies, some of the color, and much of the tenderness. Butter acts as a shortening, that is, it “shortens” the gluten strands found in flour and gives the cookie a soft, melt-in-your mouth texture.
Margarine can be substituted for butter. Margarine often has more water than butter and some adjustment to the recipe may be necessary if you substitute margarine for butter.
Shortening can be used in place of butter but the cookie is likely to be very different. A cookie with shortening will have less spread, will tend to be crisper, and will lack that buttery flavor—even if you use butter-flavored shortening.
Eggs add structure and fat to the cookies. The eggs, as they are beaten, create bubbles that make the cookies lighter and the protein in the egg solidifies to create a firmer, higher profile as it bakes.
Always use fresh eggs and use the size of eggs called for in the recipe. Set the eggs on the counter for thirty minutes before using—warmer eggs will make a lighter cookie.
Fruits and Nuts
Where would we be without raisin cookies or those nut-filled cookies?
Nuts become rancid easily. The smaller the nut pieces, the quicker they will spoil. Always taste the nuts before using them in the recipe. If they taste even slightly rancid, discard them. Rancid nuts may be unhealthy. Store your nuts in the refrigerator, or better yet, the freezer.
To enhance the flavor of nuts, consider toasting them. Place them one layer thick on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees. The type and size of the nuts will determine the baking time, anywhere from three minutes to ten minutes. Determine when the nuts are toasted by both fragrance and color. Always let the nuts cool and reabsorb the oils before mixing them into the batter.
Dry fruit becomes hard as it ages. Steam raisins and other dried fruit by pouring boiling water to just cover them and let stand until plump—the length of time will be a factor of the freshness and type of fruit. Pat them dry on paper towels. Kids who turn their noses up at raisin cookies may change their minds if they experience cookies with plumped raisins.
The wonderful world of spices was designed for cookies. Use the best spices that you can buy, keep them covered, use them while they are fresh. There is a world of difference between quality spices and inexpensive spices.
Buy the best cinnamon that you can find. Taste-test your cinnamon for quality. Good cinnamon will taste sweet and have almost a citrus flavor. Cheap cinnamon will be astringent and bitter. Good quality cinnamon will make a marvelous difference in your baking.
Most cookies use a two stage method of mixing. The sugars and fats are creamed together with eggs added and beat into the creamed mixture. The dry ingredients are added to the creamed mixture.
To ensure that leavenings and spices are evenly distributed in the batter, mix all dry ingredients together thoroughly before combining the dry mixture with the creamed mixture. Do so with either a whisk or by sifting the ingredients together.
Fold any fruit and nuts gently into the batter stirring no more than necessary to keep the batter light and airy.
The greatest cookie fault is over baking. If your cookies tend to be dry or tough, reduce the baking. When done and hot on the cookie sheet, most cookies appear to be under baked. It’s better to under bake than to over bake.
Always bake the cookies on the middle shelf—the lower shelf is too close to the heating element and will over bake the bottom of the cookies. If you bake more than one sheet a time, either switch the lower sheet with the upper sheet part way through the baking or place on sheet on top of another sheet to insulate the bottom of the pan.
Learn how your oven bakes. If experience tells you that your oven bakes faster than called for in most recipes, lower the heat by 25 degrees. Better yet, use an ovenproof thermometer to test the heat in your oven.
If you have a lot of cookies to bake and a limited number of baking pans, consider lining the pans with sheets of foil or parchment paper. You can load the foil or parchment paper with cookie dough while the sheets are on the counter. As soon as the cookies come from the oven, slide the sheets from the pans and set the pans aside to cool. Remove the cookies from the parchment paper or foil to cool on wire racks. As soon as the pans are cool, load them again with sheets of cookies. Never place cookie dough on warm pans as it will increase the spread of the cookies and affect cooking time.
If you haven't discovered the convenience of freezing cookie dough, the next time that you bake cookies, try freezing part of your dough. For refrigerator-type cookies, form the dough into logs and freeze so that the dough can be sliced when almost thawed. For other cookies, wrap the dough in plastic and press as much air from the wrap as possible then place the wrapped dough inside a plastic bag to freeze.
Most cookie dough can be kept in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator for up to three months and in a freezer for up to six months. (The freezing compartment of your refrigerator is not as cold as a freezer.)
Most baked cookies freeze well. The exception is chocolate glazed cookies; freezing often creates a white frost on the chocolate. Freeze each type separately—never freeze crisp and chewy cookies together. Freeze delicate cookies on a baking sheet before wrapping them individually and storing them in containers.
Freezing Bar Cookies
Most bar cookies freeze particularly well. There are two ways to freeze bar cookies: wrap them individually or wrap and freeze the whole cake after it has cooled completely.
Bar cookies should last for months in a freezer (not the freezer section of your refrigerator). We have frozen Hermits in a Bar for six months with no noticeable loss of quality.
All cookies that have been frozen can benefit from refreshing. Spread them on a baking sheet and stick them in an oven heated to 325 degrees for three to eight minutes depending on the thickness of the cookies. They are done when they start to smell fresh-baked.
Even if the cookies have not been frozen, consider refreshing them before serving. Fresh from the oven, cookies that are several days old taste as if they were just baked.
If soft or chewy cookies become hard or stale in the cookie jar, add a slice of bread. By the next day, the moisture will have migrated to the sugar-rich cookies making them soft and moist again. Shipping
Most of us have loved ones across the country that we would like to share cookies with. There are two keys to successfully shipping cookies: wrap them individually in plastic and ship them in small containers. For more delicate cookies, nestle them in Styrofoam shipping pieces or ordinary popcorn. Lower fat cookies last longer so are better for shipping long distances.
© 2004, The Prepared Pantry (www.preparedpantry.com).
How to Troubleshoot Cookies
If your cookies are too tough . . . You may have used too much flour or a flour with too high of a protein content. Unless you want a chewy cookie, do not use bread flour. Check your measurements--the cookies may not have enough fat or the amount of sugar may be wrong.
If your cookies are too crumbly . . . They may have too much sugar, shortening, or leavening or may not be thoroughly mixed. Try adding more eggs.
If your cookies are too hard . . . They may have been baked too long or at a temperature that was too low. Too much flour or not enough shortening or liquid will make them hard also.
If your cookies are too dry . . . The same elements that make cookies too hard, may make them too dry. Try baking them at a higher temperature for a shorter period. Substitute brown sugar (with its higher moisture content) for part of the granulated sugar.
If your cookies are too brown . . . The cookies were most likely baked too long or at too high of a temperature. Too much sugar may make a cookie brown too readily.
If your cookies are not browned enough . . . The baking temperature was too low, they were not baked long enough, or there was too little sugar.
If your cookies spread too much . . . The baking temperature may be too low. Too much sugar, shortening, or leavening will cause spread. If pans are greased with too much shortening, spread may occur. Add a little more flour or chill your dough before forming the cookies.
If your cookies don't spread enough . . . The opposite conditions that create too much spread may cause your cookies not to spread enough. There may not be enough sugar, shortening, or leavening, or the temperature is too high. Try adding more grease to the pan and baking at a lower temperature.
If the edges or crust turns out sugary . . . The cookies probably have too much sugar. The dough may have been inadequately mixed.
If your cookies have a poor flavor . . . Make sure all the flavoring ingredients were added. Dated or low quality ingredients may not impart strong enough flavors. Improperly washed baking pans will sometimes cause a cookie to taste bad.
If your cookies stick to the pans . . . The pans probably weren't greased adequately. Too much sugar will make cookies stick. Cookies are usually easier to remove from their pans immediately after coming from the oven.
Save Time with No-Bake Cookies
Whether you don't want to heat up the kitchen or the demands of getting the kids out the door are upon you, it's nice to have a few no-bake cookie recipes on hand. We thought we would share some of our favorites with you.
This first recipe, Cranberry Coconut Bars, is more of a big kid cookie—it has too much fruit and too many nuts in it to suit most youngsters. But it so scrumptious and easy, we had to include it. If you are making a lunch for a spouse or a teenager, we think this will be a hit. Of course, it doesn't have to go in a lunch pail.
This is a microwave cookie that can be mixed right in the baking pan. How's that for convenience?
If you are not fond of dried cranberries, consider substituting dates, raisins, or chopped apricot pieces in this recipe.
Cranberry Coconut Bars
1/2 cup butter1/2 cup brown sugar1 1/2 cup quick rolled oats1/4 cup light corn syrup1/2 cup dried cranberries1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut1/2 cup walnut pieces
1. Place butter in an 8-inch square, microwave-safe baking dish. Microwave until the butter is melted. 2. Stir in the brown sugar until dissolved. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Press the mixture firmly into the dish.3. Microwave for three to five minutes or until lightly browned. If your microwave does not have a rotating carousel, rotate the dish twice during cooking.4. Let the cookies cool and then cut them into bars with a sharp knife. Wrap them individually to pack in a lunch.
This recipe will make sixteen 2 x 2-inch squares.
This next recipe makes a great kid cookie. It's almost confection-like but is so packed with energy and hearty oats that you won't mind giving your youngster a few. This cookie is best with a tall glass of milk.
This is a range-top cookie. Because it is a no-baker and so full of energy, it makes a great camping cookie.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Drops
2 cups sugar1/2 cup milk1/4 cup butter1/3 cocoa2 1/2 cup quick oats1/2 cup peanut butter1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1. Combine sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Cook for two more minutes stirring constantly and then remove the pan from the heat.2. Stir in the peanut butter and vanilla, then the oats. 3. Let cool for several minutes and then drop spoonfuls onto waxed paper. Let the cookies cool completely before removing them from the waxed paper.
When thinking of no-bake cookies, don't forget the perennial favorites, Rice Krispie Treats and Frosted Graham Crackers. We're assuming everyone has the recipe for Rice Krispie Treats. Consider adding chocolate chips, dried fruit pieces, or cinnamon candies for a little pizzazz.
To make Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats, melt 2/3 cup chocolate chips (for a recipe calling for six cups of cereal) with the marshmallows and butter. This is a real favorite—our kids like these more than regular Rice Krispie Treats and they are no more difficult to make.
For Frosted Graham Crackers, simply pick your favorite frosting and sandwich that between two graham cracker squares. Pick a frosting with a powdered-sugar base that will set up firm and won't be messy.
© 2004, The Prepared Pantry (www.preparedpantry.com).
The Joys of Refrigerator Cookies
Baking cookies seem to fill the house with a sense of well being and peace. Perhaps it is the smell of butter, vanilla, and spices emanating from the hot oven. Maybe it is the love and caring attention that is evident in cookies. Home, love, and cookies seem to go together.
Consider refrigerator, or icebox, cookies for the holidays. They can be made up ahead of time-even months ahead-and stored until ready to bake. Baking up those stored refrigerator cookies is mess free, takes little time, and you only need to bake what you need for the moment. Drop cookies are quick cookies; refrigerator cookies are convenient cookies.
Refrigerator cookies are also attractive cookies. Nothing beats the uniform slices and consistent shape of refrigerator cookies. To keep that uniform shape, slice while the dough is still cold and firm and turn the log after every few cookies to keep the log round. If the cookies have a flat edge, mold them back to shape with the curl of your finger before baking.
Roll the refrigerator cookies into logs (or blocks) as directed in the instructions then wrap them in waxed paper and aluminum foil. The logs can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for months. When you are ready to bake, remove the logs from the refrigerator to unthaw. It's easier to slice a log that is not completely thawed and the cookies bake fine-though you may need to add another minute or so.
Types of Cookies and How to Bake Them
Did you know there are six different types of cookies? Each has its place. All are easy enough to make that the skills for success are easily learned. Here, we review the six types of cookies and provide tips for each.
When you are in a hurry, nothing is faster than a bar cookie. Mix, pour the batter in a pan, and bake. You don’t have to form individual cookies—the most time consuming task in many recipes.
If you would like a tender, cake-like cookie, use all-purpose or pastry flour. Don’t over mix--over mixing will develop the gluten and make for a tougher cookie. Instead of greasing the baking pan, consider lining the pan with foil or parchment paper. Lightly spray the foil with vegetable spray. Be sure and spread the dough evenly in the pan for uniformly baked cookies.
Cake-like bar cookies should be baked until a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean. When lightly pressed with a fingertip, the top should spring back. For brownie-type cookies, the tops should be dull—not glossy—and an imprint will remain when touched. After baking, holding the edges of the paper or foil, lift the loaf of cookies from the pan. Use a sharp, serrated knife and trim the edges. Then use a ruler to mark the cuts for uniform bars.
Bar cookies can be cooled in the pan or on a rack. They can be stored in the pan but we prefer to cut the cookies into bars as described, and wrap them individually in plastic.
These are the most common cookies and probably what we think of first when cookies come to mind. There are more recipes for drop cookies than for any other type.
Make each cookie of equal size and height for uniform baking. (An ice cream scoop with a release mechanism helps make uniform cookies.) Bake until the cookies are delicately browned and an imprint remains if lightly touched with a finger. Do not over bake the cookies. Over baked cookies are dry and hard. Remove them immediately to racks to cool. Let them cool completely before stacking.
These are formed into balls between the palms of your hands. Some are flattened with a fork or the bottom of a glass before baking. Some are left round—the oven mettles the butter and cookie softens to a flattened shape.
It's easy to make uniform, round cookies. To make them the same size, use a kitchen scale and weigh each ball. If you don't have a kitchen scale, use a ruler so that each cookie has the same diameter.
Bake these cookies until they are delicately browned and an imprint remains if lightly touched with a finger. Remove them immediately to racks to cool and let them cool completely before stacking.
In some ways, refrigerator cookies are the most convenient cookies. You can mix the dough ahead of time and bake them when needed and bake only as many as are needed. Dough can be stored for a week in the refrigerator and much longer than that in the freezer.
After mixing, form the dough into a round or rectangular log and chill thoroughly. Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut cleanly especially if there are nuts in the dough. Use a ruler to get the cookies all the same thickness. When slicing round logs, roll the dough after each cut to keep the log uniform.
Bake the cookies until they are delicately browned and cool them on racks.
Handle and chill the dough as for refrigerator cookies. Roll the dough out on a very lightly floured surface. Most recipes call for the dough to be about 1/4-inch thick. Use a toothpick to make sure that the dough is uniformly the right thickness. A thinner cookie will make for a crisper cookie. Cut the dough with cookie cutters. Get as many cookies from each rolling as possible, Successive rollings, with the flour from the counter incorporated into the dough and with more handling of the dough, will make for tougher cookies.
These cookies take special equipment--a cookie press--but can be made into wonderfully attractive shapes. They are great to make with kids. Kids are fascinated with both the shapes and technique.
Follow the manufacturer's directions for forming cookies. The dough must be pliable. If the dough gets too soft, return it to the refrigerator and let it chill.
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