Mmmmmm… Nothing beats homemade, freshly baked cookies. You just can’t get the same flavor and texture from the ‘commercial’ stuff. Plus, when you make your own, you can control the ingredients. You can double the chocolate chips, or adjust the recipe to make cookies rich and chewy, or thin and crisp.
Here are some baking tips to help you make perfect cookies each and every time. Certain ingredients and techniques will change the consistency of your cookies. Once you understand the basic ‘science’ and ‘logic’ of baking, you’ll be able to finetune any recipe and make it completely your own.
Cookie secret # 1: Choose the right fats.
Margarine, shortening and butter are all ‘fats’ but they can’t be used interchangeably. Substituting one for the other will affect a cookie’s flavor and appearance.
For example, shortening and margarine take longer to melt in the oven. These also have less fat content, so cookies stay light, puffy and cake-like. (You can make cookies even more puffy by reducing shortening and margarine and adding the yolk of an egg.)
Butter, on the hand, melts at much lower temperatures. It has more flavor than shortening and margarine, but has a tendency to spread out. It usually leads to thinner and crisper cookies.
Cookie Secret # 2: Know your flours.
The majority of cookie recipes call for all-purpose flour, but there are different kinds of flour too: cake flour, all purpose, wheat, etc.
You can’t use flours interchangeably, because these differ in gluten or protein content and can affect the ‘density’ of the cookie. All purpose flour has 11% protein content, and cake flour has 6 to 8% (that’s why it tends to be ‘lighter’ and ‘fluffier’ when baked). That’s why if you want a puffy, cake-like cookie, experiment with using cake flour or pastry flour.
However, if you’re just substituting because you’ve run out of cake flour and don’t want to run to the store, modify the amount. In general, 1 cup of cake flour is equal to 1 cup of all purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. The cornstarch lowers the protein content.
The amount of flour also has affects the consistency of the cookie. Shortbread and crumbly cookies have a higher flour-to-liquid ratio.
Cookie Secret # 3: Understand the leaveners
Cookie recipes use either baking power or baking soda. These affect the dough’s acidity levels. Baking powder is has a neutral PH level and produces cookies that are puffy and light-colored. Baking soda lowers the dough’s acidity and allows it to brown in the oven.
Cookie Secret # 4: Know your sweeteners
Ah, there are many ways to sweeten a recipe. White sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey. The type and amount of sweetener affect not just the flavor of your cookie, but the consistency.
As a general rule, brown sugar results in more chewy cookies, and white sugar results in crispy cookies. That’s because brown sugar absorbs moisture during the baking process. Molasses and honey also have the same effect. (For extra chewiness, remove the cookies when they’re cooked through but the centers are still soft. Allow to cool.)
The amount of sugar also affects the cookie’s appearance. The lower the sugar content, the more puffy and cake-like the cookie becomes.
Cookie secret # 5: Look for the right ‘bonds’.
Your dry ingredients—flour, cocoa, baking soda or powder, and sugars—need moisture to stick together. That’s why you add eggs and liquids.
Depending on the type of liquid you use, the dough will either puff up or spread. Eggs tend to make cookies puffy and cake-like. Water or juice will just make the cookies spread and become flatter and more crisp. Pure egg yolks create richer and denser cookies, with a crisp texture. Pure egg whites tend to dry out the cookie, so you have to increase your cookie’s ability to absorb moisture by adding sugar.
Cookie secret # 6: Check your dough temperature.
Temperature really affects the consistency of the cookie. In fact, many cookie gurus say you should never, ever, ever use butter or eggs straight out of the refrigerator. Allow these to sit on the table for a few hours before you bake, in order to bring it too room temperature.
If you want cookies to hold their shape, chill the batter before putting in the oven. This is very important for rolled or cut out cookies. If you want chewy cookies, melt the butter before adding it to the sugar.
Cookie secret # 7: Master the mixing.
Luckily, cookie batter isn’t as delicate as cake batter (which can get really ruined if you overmix it). However, the mixing technique can make the different between an ‘okay’ cookie and a ‘fantastic’ cookie.
If you want a cake-like cookie, you need to beat the batter with an electric mixer until it’s fluffy. If you want a sandy cookie, don’t mix—cut the fat into the flour. Overmixing can make the cookie spread out too much, so mix just enough to combine the wet and dry ingredients.