How to Perfect Your Cookies: Tips From a Professional Pastry Chef
The Basic Ingredients of Cookie Batter
Your typical cookie batter contains the basic ingredients of butter, sugar, eggs, flour, flavorings and garnishings. Some recipes may opt for margerine, a different type of sugar, a different type of flour, one or two flavorings and garnishings, By garnishings, I mean nuts, chocolates, dried fruits, and so on. It is best to limit your garnishings into one or two flavors so your product could be appreciated better. A potpourri of ingredients in a cookie can be daunting to the taste buds.
- Butter: Use unsalted butter at all times. Butter is fat that helps flavor and bind the batter. Add kosher salt or iodized salt for balance.
- Sugar: Granulated sugar or brown sugar or a combination of this as called for in the recipe is at your discretion. What is important is make sure your sugar is dissolved. If the sugar is lumpy, put in the mixer to break the lumps first before adding the butter and the rest of the ingredients. A perfect finished cookie does not echo sugar granules.
- Eggs: Whatever type of eggs you prefer will work. Egg works as a binder in addition to adding flavor and body to your batter.
- Flour: Most cookie recipes call for all-purpose flour that has less gluten than bread flour which makes bread more heavy and chewy. Pastry flour is too light and flaky. A combination of flours may work as called for in the recipe. Cookies have to have a combination of crunchiness, chewiness and moist.
- Flavorings: Vanilla extract a classical and traditional favorite could be replaced or combined with other fruit extracts. Extracts are potent and concentrated and are measured by the teaspoons. Some of the extracts in the market are imitation or has more alcohol content. Read and select your items carefully.
- Garnishings: There are dozens to choose from to create cookies of varieties. Use shelled chopped nuts, dried chopped fruits, seeds, chocolate pieces and so on. The plethora of selection is endless. It is your creative enthusiasm that will be measured.
Always remember to check your ingredients for freshness and contamination. If your nuts are rancid, you would have wasted your entire cookie batch using bad nuts. Be wary of cracked bits of shells on nuts or stems on dried fruits before adding to your batter. You do not want someone breaking their tooth over these.
Note to the nuts: Oops . . . you know what I am referring to! To prolong the life of the nuts or to keep them nuts from going rancid, make sure that the container is dry and sealed with a lid or zipped tightly. If you are not using these nuts in the next two weeks, refrigerate or freeze. Thaw frozen nuts before adding to baking ingredients.
How to Mix the Cookie Batter
Remember that a typical cookie batter uses a paddle or flat beater for mixing. Most home bakers make a mistake of beating the cookie batter to death and the resulting cookie is a very flat cookie.
The first step in preparing a cookie batter is to make sure your butter is soft, not melted and not solid. Use the microwave oven to soften the butter. Watch it carefully. It only takes about 30 seconds to soften a 4-ounce solid butter. If you know that you are making cookies the next day, pull out the butter that you will need and leave at room temperature.
The first step in making the cookie batter is mixing the butter. If you have a soft butter, beat the butter for one minute; then add the sugar. If you are using brown sugar and the brown sugar has hardened, you can use a food processor to break the lumps. Do not put hardened sugar with your mixture because it will not break evenly.
Have you noticed cookies that have that rough texture or granulated feel to it? It is because the sugar(s) have not been dissolved properly. So, the creaming (beating butter and sugar together) is an important first step to making your cookie a success.
Adding the Fat Binder and Liquid
Always crack your eggs in a separate bowl and not on the mixer to avoid loose bits of shells in your cookie dough. Combine your liquids—i.e., egg and vanilla—and stir to mix.
Adding the Flour
Combine the flour with the salt and baking soda and stir to incorporate. Always remember that whenever using chocolate in baking, baking soda is added to act as neutralizer to the acid in the chocolate. Add the flour gradually and stir every stage so the flour would be distributed evenly. Scrape, scrape is our motto in volume bakery productions. Nobody wants to waste a 50 pound of cookie dough just because of the flour imbalance.
Adding the Garnishings
With your mise en place (everything in its place) ahead of time, your nuts have been lightly toasted, perhaps, and chopped coarsely, and everything else has been measured. After adding at once, stir to incorporate and scrape. Use your hands to blend to avoid stiffening the dough.
Portioning the Cookie Dough
Never use your hands to ball up your cookie dough. It is bad on the dough and it is amateurish. Use an ice cream scoop. You will have even-size cookies.
How to Bake the Perfect Cookie
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Some recipes will tell you to bake your cookies at 375 degrees. You can if you want to, but the cookies cook too fast and burn fast. At 350 degrees, there is an even-ness to it, unless you get absent-minded and forget about what your baking. You can double sheet your pans to protect the bottom from browning faster. ALWAYS . . . always place your sheetpan in the middle rack for even baking. The recipe below will take 10 minutes to bake.
- Use a stainless cookie sheet and a parchment paper.
- Space out your cookies. Cookies do spread a little so you want to give them space. If cookies spread more than they should, that means you have paddled the cookie dough to death and put so much air into it that you are now seeing a very flat disaster.
- Remember to rotate the sheetpan in the oven. Ovens tend to have hot spots. The back maybe hotter than the front, so give them equal time.
- A perfect baking cookie shows light golden brown around the edges. Remove the sheetpan from the oven. As long as the color shows light golden brown around the edges, your cookies can stay on the sheetpan. However, if the cookies are darker than this, remove the sheetpan from the oven and remove the baked cookies from the sheetpan. To do this, put the sheetpan on a room temperature surface (wood table), pull the two corners of the parchment paper onto the surface to stop the cooking process. As long as the cookies stay on a hot pan, the cooking continues. If you want to have moist cookies, remove the baked cookies from the sheetpan onto a table.
Storing the Cookies
Let us say that you want to triple the recipe below, you can:
Pre-scoop the extra cookie dough, lay each scooped cookie on a sheetpan and put in the refrigerator to chill. It will set in 2 hours. Once set, put each scooped cookie in ziploc bag and freeze. Label your bag. This can stay for a couple of months in the freezer.
When you are craving a fresh homemade cookie, just thaw and bake.
Basic Tools to Make Cookies
- KitchenAid Mixer: Makes the job easier and faster. However, if you paddle your batter more than enough, don't blame it on the mixer.
- Pastry Scraper or Spatula: Use this to SCRAPE your batter every stage and after adding an ingredient. After creaming the sugar and butter, SCRAPE. After adding the gradually adding the flour and mixing, SCRAPE. This process ensures a well-blended and incorporated batter. It is a good practice to start with before you embark on large-scale baking, like working for a large-volume production bakery.
- Ice Cream Scoops: They come in different sizes of your choice. Using ice cream scoops prevents you from murdering the cookie dough and it helps when your cookie are the same sizes. Be aware to bake same size cookies on the same sheetpan as is baking the same type of cookie on the same sheetpan.
- Parchment Paper: I am not a fan of the homemaker's parchment paper; however, it works. I prefer the commercial ones because they come flat as opposed to rolled up in the stores. Use stainless steel utensils to prevent the corners and edges from curling. Remember not to touch them after you remove the baked cookies from the oven. (Darn it, I forgot again!!)
- Sheetpan: Those commercial half sheetpans are indispensable and versatile. Invest in some. I bought mine from Sam's Club. Large sheetpans are usually bought in commercial kitchen equipment stores or get them online.
Darn Perfect Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie Recipe
Yield: 9 (2-oz.) cookies or 18 (1-oz.) cookies
- 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 medium-size egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups milk chocolate chips (or your chips of your choice)
- 3/4 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely
- Cream the butter and sugars together. Remember to break the sugars finely if lumpy.
- Combine egg and vanilla together and pour into creamed mixture. Break the egg into a separate bowl to avoid shells getting into the mixer. Stir and scrape.
- In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda. Stir with a whisk.
- Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture gradually. Scrape after each addition.
- Add the chocolate chips and the nuts and stir to incorporate. Do not over-beat. Use your hands to stir if need be. Scrape.
- Optional step: Lightly toast nuts if you want.
- Portion cookie dough out onto a parchment paper-lined sheetpan by using ice cream scoop. Space the cookies evenly. Press each cookie slightly with your open palm.
- Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit cookies till edges are golden brown (about 10 minutes).
Questions & Answers
What changes would I need to make to the cookie recipe in this article for high altitude - 6 to 8,500 ft?
When I worked at a ski resort 6,000 ft. above level in Utah, we have to adjust the temperature at 25 degrees lower. But here some articles that can guide you. https://www.google.com/search?q=high+altitude+baki...