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Saturday, July 13, 2013

10 Basic Steps to Making Great Cookies

Everyone likes cookies; kids, parents, grandparents, friends, and the list could go on.  There is just nothing much better than warm cookies right out of the oven to kids of all ages.  Baking cookies is a great way to get the kids involved in the kitchen even at an early age.  Even the little ones are so impressed by cookies "they made themselves" even though they may have only stirred the dough, added an ingredient, or sprinkled on some colored sugar decorations.  And homemade cookies are perfect for everything from welcome to the neighbor hood gifts, teacher gifts, holiday gifts, office treats, to just simply something to hand to daddy and say, "Look what I made for you".

Today we have some very good cookie dough in the dairy counters of our grocery stores to buckets of dough sold as fund raisers.  But baking your own good cookies is still something special.  Baking cookies with the kids is not only fun but it teaches them how to measure, a math skill they don't even realize they are learning.  It is also a lesson in organization as ingredients are gathered before the baking begins, a lesson in working with others even if it is just the two of you, and a lesson in cleaning up as the kitchen has to be cleaned afterwards.  Even if children aren't involved, becoming proficient with a certain cookie recipe gives one a sense of self and confidence as others come to expect and even request your "special" cookie.

Following are a few tips to help you bake great cookies from scratch, as the old-timers used to say:

1. Use good ingredients.  It is impossible to produce a first-rate product with second-rate ingredients.  For example, use butter instead of margarine.  So many of today's margarine products contain a large amount of water.  This will not produce a good cookie.  Forget about counting fat and calories when baking cookies.  Concentrate on a good product and don't over indulge on the finished product!

2. Use good utensils.  For example, invest in a couple of good baking sheets.  Good baking sheets will help you turn out a better cookie.

3. Use standard measuring cups and do measure the ingredients.  Baking is not the place to "throw in a little of this or that".  Use glass liquid measuring cups for measuring liquids.  You will be able to see the lines easily and the ingredients won't slosh over the sides.  Use nested measuring cups to measure dry ingredients.  Dry ingredients should be measured to the rim of the cup.  And use the right size.  Don't measure what appears to be a half cup in a one cup measure.  Get out the one-half cup measure.  It is no more trouble to wash one extra cup!

4. Use standard measuring spoons.  Do not grab a "teaspoon" from your silverware drawer to measure an ingredient.  Get out a measuring spoon and do it right.  The teaspoon that came with your silverware set will not measure an accurate teaspoon for a recipe.  And as with the cups, use the right size.  Do not guess at a half teaspoon in a one teaspoon size.

5. Use the proper baking sheets or pans.  Shiny metal absorbs less heat than the dark metal.  Dark metal may cause your cookies to over brown on the bottom, so the shiny metal is best if you want to produce a delicately browned cookie.  When baking bar cookies, it is especially important to use the proper sized pan that is called for in the recipe.  If you are on a limited budget and can only afford one or two quality pans, go for the cake or bar pans.  They can be turned upside down and used as cookie sheets.

6. Other important utensils.  To make your baking easier and more efficient, helping you to turn out a better finished product, there are some other utensils you should have on hand.  If your budget is limited, buy the utensils you will use most often (for other uses as well) and add the remainder gradually.  (Hint:  When family and friends ask what you want as a gift for holidays or birthdays mention good quality items you still would like to have.)  Some of these items are:  a good set of wooden spoons for creaming butters and sugars together, slotted spoons for efficient blending of ingredients that need to be mixed by hand, a good set of rubber or silicone scrapers or spatulas, sharp knives, a good set of cookie cutters, a set of heavy mixing bowls with rounded bottoms, large glass pitcher-style mixing bowl, quality wire cooling racks, and a good rolling pin and pastry cloth for use when making cut-out cookies.

7. Read the recipe carefully before beginning the mixing process.  You don't want to get started and realize you are out of a needed ingredient.  This will also let you know the particular basic method of mixing this recipe so you can have the proper utensils laid out.

8. Preheat the oven.  Before you place the cookies in the oven, the oven should be at the proper temperature. 

9. Watch your baking time carefully to avoid over-baked or underbaked cookies.  Always check your cookies at the minimum baking time given in the recipe, then you can bake them longer if needed, checking often.  An overbaked cookie is just not a good cookie.

10. Never substitute ingredients unless the recipe gives directions for doing so or you are well acquainted with the recipe and know exactly what you are doing.

Following these guidelines will help you to produce a great finished cookie product.  And most of all, have fun doing so!

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