A guide to crafting the perfect cookie
Last month marked my 15th anniversary of writing for the Baking Secrets Column. Over the years I've rolled pie crust, frosted cupcakes, baked gluten-free bars, stirred sauces, carved watermelons and infused chocolate into most any dessert dynamic. What stands out as my most requested topic? The secrets behind crafting a great cookie.
These culinary dynamos offers home cooks a dessert that bakes into individual servings, ease of transport and showcase for parties and best of all, a sky's-the-limit take on crafting signature cookies. Armed with the essentials, a novice baker can stir imagination into cookie dough and create sensational treats!
Before heading to fill that cookie jar, take my list of "essential secrets" to your kitchen.
* Oven -- Even the best cookie dough spreads excessively and quickly burns in high heat. Invest in a small oven thermometer and test your oven. Bake cookie dough high in sugars, such as chocolate chip, on the middle/upper racks. * Baking sheets -- Take 2 tips from pastry chefs. Use heavy duty half-sheet pans for baking cookies (available at Gordon Food Service/Wilton/amazon.) Lined with parchment paper, heavy duty pans conduct heat evenly and guard against over browning. Parchment paper makes for easy cookie release and quick cleanup.
* Ingredients, Part 1 -- Know the basics: bleached all-purpose flour tends to be softer than unbleached or whole wheat. This makes a noticeable difference in rolled cutout cookies, when rerolling. Using unsalted butter allows total control over salt content, effecting sweetness. Dark brown sugar contains more molasses than light varieties, changing texture and taste.
* Ingredients, Part 2 -- Freshness matters with leavening. Baking powder contains an acid/alkaline mixture that ignites to raise dough while baking. Why take a chance with outdated leavening. Baking powder/soda is inexpensive baking insurance. Store ground spices in a cool place to avoid loss of flavor and potency.
* Substitution myths -- Food science rules the bake shop. Drained applesauce will not behave the same way in a cookie recipe as butter or other fats. These kinds of substitutions introduce water and more sugar into dough that drastically changes the texture and taste of a cookie.
* Stir-ins, -- Keep in mind the stir-in rule. If the stir-in does not change the nature of the dough, such as chocolate vs white chips or variety nuts, go for it. Stir-ins such as toffee chips, uncoated candy or fruit will meld into the dough, creating a recipe that bakes into a different cookie than expected.
* Mixing technique -- Cold butter will not cream with sugars and not create uniformly combined dough. Stopping to scrape the bowl from the bottom ensures even baked texture.
* The signature secrets -- Chill dough 24 to 48 hours to develop flavors. Portion dough using scoop for round shape and uniform baking. Rotate pans mid-baking.
Try this spin on peanut butter cookies. Dark brown sugar infuses molasses for deeper sweetness and the granola stir-in bakes textural interest for the taste buds. Your favorite granola will elevate this cookie to a signature dessert status.
• Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Oakbrook Terrace. Write to her at email@example.com.