Cookie baking is a great way for families to come together and share in a time-honored holiday tradition. In difficult economic times, when there might not be as many presents under the tree, shared holiday experiences-- like cookie baking -- present a wonderful opportunity to re-focus on the simple joys of the season, says Ginny Bean, wife, mom and founder of ginnys.com
Whether cookie baking is a long-standing ritual in your family, or you're a newcomer, hoping to establish a new holiday tradition this year, Ginny has some tips that will improve your odds of having your home-baked cookies turn out great, every time.
Use the right fat. Some cookie recipes only achieve their best flavor and texture with butter. Hopefully, those recipes will specify "butter only; no substitutes." Recipes calling for butter or margarine will produce good results with either, as long as you use a margarine that contains at least 80 percent vegetable oil. If it's not clear from the front of the box, check the nutrition label: The margarine should have 100 calories per tablespoon. Margarines with less than 80 percent vegetable oil have a high water content and can result in tough cookies that spread excessively, stick to the pan, or don't brown well.
Measure accurately. Nested metal or plastic measuring cups are intended for dry ingredients such as flour and sugar. When you measure flour, stir it in the canister to lighten it. (No need to sift.) Gently spoon flour into a dry measuring cup and level the top with the straight edge of a knife. Glass or plastic cups with a spout are meant only for liquids. If you use a liquid measuring cup for flour, you're likely to get an extra tablespoon or more of flour per cup, enough to make cookies dry.
Chill dough properly. The chilling time given in a recipe is the optimum time for easy rolling and shaping. If you need to speed up chilling, wrap the dough and place it in the freezer. 20 minutes of chilling in the freezer is equal to about 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Choose the right cookie sheets. Look for shiny, heavy-gauge cookie sheets with very low or no sides. Dark cookie sheets can cause cookie bottoms to over-brown. Cookies won't bake evenly in a pan with an edge. Insulated cookie sheets tend to yield pale cookies with soft centers. If you use insulated cookie sheets, don't bake cookies long enough to brown on the bottom because the rest of the cookie may get too dry. Nonstick cookie sheets let you skip the greasing step. But the dough may not spread as much, resulting in thicker, less crisp cookies. Unless specified otherwise, a light greasing with shortening or quick spray with nonstick spray coating is adequate for most recipes.
Use a powerful mixer. A powerful stand mixer ? like my 16-speed Ginny's brand mixer ? is the best way to mix heavy cookie dough. With a handheld mixer, you'll probably end up needing to stir in flour by hand, which can be a nightmare.