I’ve discovered a few tricks and gadgets that are making my holiday cookie baking much more successful this year.
Parchment paper. Most of my cookie recipes call for an ungreased cookie sheet. This year, I’m lining my cookie sheet with parchment paper. I just discovered how much easier it is making my cookie-baking. A sheet of parchment paper can be reused, batch after batch. When the cookies are done, you slip the paper, cookies and all, onto wire racks to cool (minimum 2 minutes). I am finding that the cookies bake more evenly, don’t break when I try to lift them from the paper, and I don’t have to clean the pan between batches. At Safeway, look for the display of parchment paper that offers a 75-cents-off coupon.
Cookie scoop and silicon turner. My sister swore by using this handled cookie scoop for cookie dough. (It looks like a small ice cream scoop.) At first, I wondered, why not just use spoons? But when I saw a Betty Crocker set of a cookie scoop plus cookie turner at Wal-Mart for about $3, I decided to try it. The scoop does a couple of things. It does make it a lot easier to scoop and produce evenly sized cookies. It is also easier to use every scrap of dough in the mixing bowl, so there is less waste (and more cookies!). I feel as if the scoop does not overly work the dough (the way scraping with two spoons might), which results in a lighter cookie texture. I am also a big fan of the thin, flexible turner that came in the set. It really does work better than the other turners I have for lifting cookies.
Cookie mixes. I usually make cookies to give as gifts, using recipes I have relied on year after year, and using the best ingredients, such as real vanilla and unsalted butter. This year, I find I just don’t have the time to bake from scratch. I still wanted to make cookies, however, so I bought several bags of Betty Crocker cookie dough mix in various flavors. They are on sale at Safeway for about $1.25 a bag (each bag makes 2-3 dozen cookies). I am having good success with all of them, and they save a great deal of time, and there aren’t as many utensils and bowls to clean. It’s a good compromise, if you are also pressed for time.
You can elaborate on the cookie mixes using these recipes from Betty Crocker, available online at http://www.bettycrocker.com. To save time, I may skip rolling out dough and making cut-out cookies this year and bake the jam-filled thumbprint cookies with the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix, instead.
Cook Book. While we’re talking Betty Crocker, I should also mention that I think the latest Betty Crocker cook book is a winner, especially for less experienced cooks, like myself. The cookbook is unique in that it provides photographs of how your cookies should look when done. It shows what a cookie looks like if you use too much butter or flour, and how it should look when it is just right.
A few more cookie-baking tips…
Use fresh ingredients. For the best flavor, use fresh ingredients for everything. Don’t use last year’s shortening, oil, baking soda, baking powder, flour, candy or nuts. If you are in doubt, toss it. The exception is vanilla extract, which lasts indefinitely. Even spices lose their life after too long on the shelf (about one to four years, depending on the type). Also, some might swear by them, but I don’t have good experience with cooking sprays and I don’t like what they do to my pans.
Refrigerate the dough after you mix it. This will help prevent cookie spread (cookies baking too flat and thin).
Let your cookie sheets cool between batches. If you put cookies on warm sheets, they may spread while baking.
Toast nuts before adding to the dough. Toasted nuts have the best flavor. You can toast pecans, walnuts, and almonds in about 7 minutes or less in a 400 degree oven.
Using an expensive spice? Like cardamon or star anise? Try an Indian spice store. You may find good deals on spices.
What do you use to bake great cookies? Have you found the perfect cookie sheet? Do you have a great recipe? Feel free to add them in the comments!
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