10 Secrets to Baking the Perfect Cookie

Should you refrigerate cookie dough? Cool cookies on a rack or tray? Learn the answers and a few simple rules that will ensure your cookies come out perfect every time.  

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Photo By: Sam Henderson

Why does butter temperature matter?

Butter acts like the ‘glue’ that holds together the other ingredients. Because of its structure, butter holds the key to the texture, aeration, and shape of cookies. Many cookies call for ‘creaming’ the butter and sugar together before adding dry ingredients. This ensures the butter will be distributed evenly throughout the cookie. For best results, creaming should be done for 2-3 minutes in most cases. Room temperature butter is best for this procedure. Avoid creaming butter and sugars together at a speed higher than medium. Too much friction will cause the butter to heat up and break down. For flaky cookies and many shortbreads you will need very cold butter. The cold butter globs settle between layers of flour and, when baked, melt leaving pockets of air which create layers and texture. For best results, cut butter into small cubes and place them in the freezer before starting dough. Consult the recipe and follow it closely.

Should you use paper or foil lining?

Lining baking sheets is one of the easiest ways to ensure the right type of baking and also makes for simple clean up. Parchment paper is the standard choice for most cookie baking, but it is not always the right choice. For thin cookies with a crispy bottom choose foil. Use the less-shiny side up in the bottom of your baking tray. The foil will radiate heat back up toward the cookie and non-porous nature of the foil will keep the fats near the bottom of the cookie creating a crispier bottom. In either case, allow the cookies to cool so you can peel them away from the liner if necessary. Tip: look for flat pre-cut parchment sheets at restaurant supply stores. They fit perfectly in pans and do not roll up on the ends.

Why does it matter how I cool my cookies?

It comes down to how long the cookies should continue to cook. For many standard cookies, which are somewhat soft on the inside and a bit crisp on the outside, cooling for just a minute or two on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely is the right answer. However other cookies, including many shortbreads, require cooling completely on the tray for best results. The additional contact with heat allows the cookie to cook more completely on the inside and creates a more sturdy bottom. As ever, consult the recipe and follow it closely.

How do I bake a baker’s dozen?

While baking cookies is a fun pastime, nobody wants to spend unnecessary time watching the oven. Using a baker’s dozen layout for your cookies will allow you to get more cookies done in less time. Plus, that leaves one extra cookie for the cook. Use the layout in the photo above. Start by placing the first ball of dough in the very center of the pan. Make a diagonal line from there across the cookie sheet with four more dough balls evenly spaced. Use those balls as the guide for the remaining rows of cookies. Learn how to make double-chocolate cherry cookies >>

Do I really need a cookie scoop?

The short answer is no. You don’t really need a cookie scoop unless you are making cookies that will be sandwiched together. However, if you want cookies to be of consistent size and shape it is the best way to ensure good results. Further, using a cookie scoop is often less messy than scraping from a spoon. Cookie scoops come in a wide variety of sizes. Pick up a few for differently sized cookies.

What’s the best way to measure flour?

Measuring flour properly is one of the most critical steps in consistent cookies from time to time. Also, improper measuring can result in a cookie that is too dry or tough. For best results use a scoop to gently shake the flour into your measuring cup. Then use a knife or offset spatula to scrape the flour level with the top of the cup. Tip: Although not commonly used in the U.S., the best method for measuring in baking is with a kitchen scale. For consistent results, measure ingredients from your recipe in grams. Make note of the measurements on the recipe for future reference.

Why do my cookies keep sticking to the cutter?

Cut out cookies are fun to make, but can be tricky to remove from the cutter and even the surface. The answer is flour. Dip cookie cutters in flour before the first cut and after every two or three cuts. If your dough is sticking to the counter or parchment, dip the edge of a bench scraper in flour and gently work it under the dough.

Can I make cookies without a mixer?

You can and you should in many cases. The single most common cause for tough cookies is over mixing. The mixer is great for creaming together butter and sugars, but beyond that most cookies require very little beating. Dry ingredients and extras such as chocolate chips, nuts and dried fruit generally only need to be mixed just until the ingredients are incorporated. Of course, there are some exceptions.

Why do recipes call for refrigerating dough? Do I really need to do it?

The typical reason for this is two-fold. First, in some cases the flour needs time to work its magic. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, refrigeration is often recommended to allow the butter to come back to a hardened state. Even if the recipe doesn’t call for chilling, consider chilling and bringing the dough back to room temperature before baking. Cookie dough that has been allowed to rest and chill overnight often has better flavor and texture.

How can I bake more cookies in less time?

It’s all in the rotation. If you are going to make many cookies consider purchasing at least four baking sheets. Tip: Standard professional, rolled-rim baking sheets are readily available at restaurant supply stores and often far less expensive than gimmicky ones sold in retail stores. For maximum baking production arrange your oven racks in the center of the oven. Place a tray on each rack and set a timer for about a quarter of the overall expected baking time. To estimate the time add 4-6 minutes to the baking time in the recipe as if you were only going to bake one sheet at a time. At the end of the first time, take the bottom tray out and place it on the stove, turning the front of the tray to the back. Remove the middle tray and put it on the bottom, also turning it around. Move the top tray to the middle and turn it. Place the tray on the stove top on the top rack. Continue setting the timer and rotating the trays in the same manner until they are done. Learn how to make pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies >>

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