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Holiday Cookie Baking Tips

Do you look forward to baking cookies during the holidays but feel like you’re never prepared with the essential tools and ingredients for baking?  If you feel overwhelmed when you head out to shop for cookie baking tools and ingredients, you’re not alone.  Lots of people feel the same way.  For some, it’s the only time of year when they attempt to bake cookies, so it can seem very intimidating.  That’s why I’ve decided to post some tips for baking cookies today, so you won’t forget what you need and you’ll have everything at your fingertips when you get ready to bake.  Let’s get going shall we…

Tools

Thin Metal Spatulas  Make sure you have a thin metal spatula on hand for lifting cookie cut outs and removing baked cookies from cookie sheets.  Thicker plastic spatulas don’t work as easy when trying to slide them under hot delicate cookies.

Cookie Scoops – Using a cookie scoop is important for ensuring that all cookies are the same size.  If they are not, some will get done before others.  If you don’t have a cookie scoop, use a spoon and weigh the dough on a kitchen scale.  However, if you plan to make cookies very often, it’s much easier to just invest in a cookie scoop.  Cookie scoops can be found in most grocery stores in the kitchen baking aisle.

Cookie Baking Sheets  –  It’s best to use light-colored baking sheets.  Dark colored baking sheets heat up quicker and hotter and tend to over brown the bottoms of cookies before they are done.  Invest in a sturdy heavy-duty baking sheet.  I like Nordic Ware.  Cheap ones will suddenly pop up on one corner once they get hot in the oven, causing uneven baking.  I want my baking sheets to stay totally flat.

Parchment Paper –  Parchment paper isn’t a necessity but it sometimes makes things easier.  If a recipe requires greasing a cookie sheet, parchment paper can be used instead.  It also makes for easy clean up.  Note:  If a recipe calls for using an ungreased cookie sheet, parchment paper is not necessary.  I will say, I’m not one for using parchment paper myself.  I don’t really mind greasing a cookie sheet or washing it when necessary.

Wire Cooling Racks – Invest in a couple of wire cooling racks.  They are ideal for cooling cookies.  Cookies should never be left on cookie sheets to cool.  They will continue to bake until the cookie sheets cool and will usually stick to the cookie sheets if left on them too long.

Ingredients 

Butter –   Always use pure butter, (not margarine) when baking cookies.  Pure butter adds great flavor to baked goods.  Make sure butter is at room temperature.  Transfer butter from the refrigerator to a counter about one hour before using it, to allow it to soften.  If you don’t have time to leave it on a counter, microwave it in five seconds intervals, flipping butter one turn after each five second interval.  Be careful to not melt butter, unless your recipe calls for melted butter.

Extracts –  Don’t use imitation extracts.  Use only pure extracts, such as pure vanilla or pure peppermint, etc.  Pure Oils can be used in place of extracts, but are a different strength.  Make sure you read the label for the amount of oil versus the amount of extract to use for a recipe.

Flour –  Before measuring flour, use a fork and run it through the bag or container of flour, to lift and aerate flour.  Flour that has been stored in a container or bag, becomes compacted.

Baking Powder and Baking Soda (leaveners) – Make sure you check both of these for freshness.  This is an important step.  If you don’t bake often, you really want to make sure you don’t skip this tip.  You can test baking powder by dropping a tiny bit in some warm water.  If it bubbles up or fizzes, it’s good.  If it doesn’t, pitch it.  You can test baking soda by dropping a tiny bit in some vinegar.  If it bubbles up or fizzes, it’s good.  If it doesn’t, pitch it.  For more info on checking baking powder and baking soda click here.

Eggs – If a recipe calls for eggs, use large eggs unless otherwise specified.

Cocoa – If a recipe calls for cocoa, use regular cocoa, such as Hershey’s, unless the recipe specifically calls for dutch cocoa.  There is an important difference.  Regular natural cocoa is acidic.  Therefore, it reacts with the baking soda.  In other words, they work together.  Dutch process cocoa is not acidic and will not work with the baking soda.  Also, natural cocoa contains cocoa butter, which can cause it to clump.  Some bakers sift cocoa before adding it to cookie dough, although I don’t.  I shake my cocoa can a few times before opening it.

Brown Sugar –  Most cookie recipes that call for brown sugar, don’t specify as to whether you need to use light or dark.  It’s really up to you.  However, keep in mind that dark brown sugar adds more of a molasses flavor to cookies.  I use dark brown sugar in a few select recipes such as gingerbread cookies, where you want the molasses taste to really come through.

Cutting Out Cookie Dough

Chilling dough – If a recipe calls for chilling the dough, make sure you do so.  Chilled dough isn’t as sticky as un-chilled dough.  If you don’t want cut out cookies to spread, you can refrigerate them on the cookie sheet for about fifteen minutes before baking.

Rolling dough – Roll the dough from the center to the edges, making sure use a light hand on the rolling-pin.  Do not roll the rolling-pin back and forth on the cookie dough, or you will over work the dough.  If the dough is sticky, use parchment paper or wax paper.  Dust the paper lightly with flour and roll the dough between two sheets of the paper.

Cutting the dough –  Dip cookie cutters in flour before cutting each cutout.  Metal open-faced cookie cutters are the best to use.  Plastic cutters are okay, but stick easier and the edges are not as thin and precise at cutting as the metal ones.  Avoid using cutters that have a closed decorative top on them.  The cookie dough will stick to the top and is hard to remove.  Try to re-roll scraps once only.  The more the dough is re-worked, the tougher the cookie will be.  

Happy Baking!!!

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