In Pursuit of Better Cookies
My first love of baking came first with brownies. As a kid, I loved when I would come home from school to find that my mom had made fresh brownies for us. They were soft and chocolatey and oh-so-good.
The trouble was, she didn't make brownies often enough. So I started baking when I felt like making the family (and myself) a treat. I quickly graduated to making cookies. They were just as delicious as brownies, had less mess and were much easier to bring to school for my friends.
A good cookie just has that strange power to it. I prefer soft and chewy, freshly baked cookies, but then again, the most popular cookie on the planet is an Oreo, and that is as crunchy as it gets. A good cookie has such an effect on people, and after more than 15 years of baking cookies in my spare time, I have found a few secrets that will help every baker in the pursuit of their best cookie.
5. Make Sure the Dough Is Cold
This one might not come as much of a surprise for most experienced bakers, but it is very worth mentioning. When preparing most "mom and pop" cookies, it is almost always beneficial to chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
Benefits of Cold Dough
- Prevents the cookies from spreading out too much when baking
- Allows for rolled-out cookies like sugar cookies to roll out without sticking to the rolling pin
- Makes it easier to shape into balls than warm sticky dough
Cold dough is always king. If a recipe calls for the dough to be cooled before baking, you should never skip this step. Some cookies do not require this, but most regular cookies, like chocolate chip or peanut butter, come out much better once the dough has been chilled. If you need any more convincing, think about the cookie dough that you get in the supermarket, found in the refrigerated section.
4. Measure Everything on a Scale
From professional to amateur, every baker should use a kitchen scale when preparing cookies. Using a scale is the most important method to ensure that the cookies you make will come out perfect every time.
Imagine you make cookies for your in-laws, and they come out perfect. Two months later, you bring the same recipe over, and the cookies come out completely different. Maybe there was too much flour this time, or you used more butter in the last recipe. The best way to keep your finished products consistent is to use a kitchen scale for every ingredient you use.
For the weights of different ingredients, I recommend you check out this website.
3. Add Instant Vanilla Pudding Powder
If you have checked out some of my recipes, you may have seen a strange ingredient listed. This ingredient is instant vanilla pudding powder. In any standard cookie recipe, I have added this ingredient (usually just 20 to 50 grams per batch), and they come out awesome.
Yes, I know there are other chemicals and preservatives in this ingredient, but when I am making cookies, I don't expect them to be a healthy snack. Adding this powder does a few things to your finished product.
Benefits of Vanilla Pudding Powder
- Makes softer cookies that stay softer longer
- Imparts a longer shelf life and allows the cookies to stay fresh-tasting longer
- Adds a subtle vanilla flavor that brings out the best flavor
- Helps the cookies maintain their shape and not spread out too much
It may seem like a strange ingredient to try out in your baking, but I promise it's worth a shot. The ingredient is optional in all of my recipes, and they come out fine without it, but I really do prefer to add it to my cookie and brownie recipes.
2. Use Unsalted Butter
This one is pretty straightforward. If the recipe asks for butter, do not use margarine or oil. Buttercream is better, has a better texture and consistency, and doesn't have that plastic oily taste that some margarine has.
Unsalted butter is usually the best choice when it comes to baking and cooking as well. I want to be in charge of the amount of salt in my cookie dough, so using unsalted butter is a no-brainer. It reaches room temperature better and mixes into the sugars so much better. I have done many side-by-side comparisons with unsalted butter, salted butter, and margarine, and each time, the unsalted butter came out on top.
1. Check the Temperature
Temperature is the silent and invisible agent in any baking recipe. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
Where Temperature Matters in Baking
- Oven: You set the temperature of your oven to 350 degrees, so it must be 350, right? Not necessarily—and most likely not. An oven varies in temperature by as much as 25 degrees up or down. To combat this, most chefs recommend putting an internal thermometer in your oven. These tend to be inexpensive but make sure you are getting an oven thermometer so it can survive the high temperatures you will be baking at.
- Butter and eggs: Almost every cookie recipe comes out better if the butter and eggs are at room temperature. Think about grabbing a stick of butter out of the refrigerator. A cold stick of butter will be nearly impossible to blend with the sugars in the recipe. For this and many other reasons, you should always bring your butter and eggs to room temperature before blending them together for your cookie dough.
- Dough: As mentioned in secret 5, the chilled dough is almost always preferred. Dough that has been chilled holds its shape much better once it is baking and limits the amount of spreading your cookies will do.
While some of these secrets may seem obvious, it is always good to get a refresher on why some baking tips and tricks exist in the first place. If you can master these secrets and pay attention to your cookies as they are being prepared, from blending to baking, then you can become the best cookie baker you can be!