Maureen Rowan Murphy, Manager Consumer Trends, Nutrition and Lifestyles
‘Tis the season for baking! Share holiday traditions and the love of baking by enlisting the help of children or grandchildren. In addition to teaching them skills that will last a lifetime, you’ll be creating memories they will cherish forever!
6 Tips for Baking Your Best Holiday Cookies Ever
- Measure Ingredients Carefully
- Take the Chill off the Butter and Eggs
- Use a Light Touch When Mixing and Handling
- Chill the Dough
- Line Cookie Sheets with Parchment Paper (or Silicone Mats)
- Ready, Set, Bake
Measure Ingredients Carefully
Baking isn’t as forgiving as cooking when it comes to measuring ingredients for a recipe. It’s especially critical with ingredients like flour, as adding too much will result in a cookie that’s hard and dry. Don’t dip the measuring cup into the container or bag, (this packs too much flour into it) and tap off the excess. Spoon it lightly into a dry measuring cup and level it off with a knife.
Take the Chill off the Butter and Eggs
Allow butter to soften by taking it out of the refrigerator approximately 1 hour before you’re ready to begin baking. You may want to take your eggs out then too. It will be easier to cream the butter and sugar, and easier when adding the eggs, resulting in a more uniform texture throughout your cookies. Eggs, especially the whites, add much more volume to the cookie batter when not used cold right from the refrigerator. It’s also important to add them one at a time as directed. Eggs added all at once won’t emulsify properly with the fat in the butter. If an egg isn’t mixed in well before the next one is added, the emulsion could break.
Use a Light Touch When Mixing and Handling
I learned at a young age that over mixing and over handling dough results in cookies that are tough and dry. When my brothers and I were young making cut-outs under the direction of our mother, I remember her saying we had to cut out as many cookies as possible after the first roll. She said the more times we rolled the dough the more flour would get worked into it, and the cookies wouldn’t be as good. She was right!
Chill the Dough
Although not all cookie recipes instruct that the dough be chilled, I do chill all my cookie dough whether it says to or not. I find it makes the dough easier to work with, helps prevent spreading, and that the chilling time results in better flavor as the ingredients get time to blend together. Prepare cookie dough when you can steal a little extra time since it will keep at least 3 days in the refrigerator or for several weeks in the freezer.
Line Cookie Sheets with Parchment Paper (or Silicone Mats)
Not only does parchment paper make for a quick and easy cleanup, there’s no sticking, and it provides a layer of insulation between the cookies and baking sheet which helps prevent the cookies from spreading more than desired.
While on the subject of cookie sheets, I prefer using shiny aluminum ones rather than dark colored as I find they cause overbrowning.
Ready, Set, Bake
Now it’s time to get baking! I like to use a scoop for drop cookies, i.e. chocolate chips, oatmeal raisin, etc. so that my cookies bake up the same size. Place cookies (drop or cut-out variety) at least 2 inches apart on cookie sheet to allow air to circulate, and bake on a rack in the middle of the oven. It’s best to bake one sheet of cookies at a time if possible, but if not rotate the baking sheets from the top to bottom rack a couple times while baking to ensure they cook and brown evenly.
Be careful not to overbake. The cookies are done when the edges are “set” and slightly browned. I set the timer for 1-2 minutes less than the suggested baking time. I prefer a softer cookie so I remove from the oven when the top of the center looks slightly under baked since they continue to bake once I remove them from the oven. You may want to leave in a bit longer until the center looks set if you like a crisper cookie. Carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool.
Let the cookie sheets cool completely before placing more cookies on to bake. If they are still warm the cookies will spread and bake up too thin, and you won’t be happy you rushed it.