Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cookies Rule and Cookie Rules

Cookies. They are a portable party. Everyone loves them, and if someone says they don't they are LYING. (they just haven't met the right cookie yet!) Baked from scratch cookies are the apex of the hierarchy in cookiedom, but just below are the slice and bakes, and the dry mixes. These two make you exert very little energy, and can still come out fabulous, but at the very bottom of all is prepackaged store bought cookies. Unless you are using junk food cookies for an ingredient in a recipe,  save the energy you spent on opening the package on picking your nose. No, it isn't the thought that counts. Now I realize there are certain times you can't do freshly baked goods. For instance my nephew's school tells parents that all baked goods must come from the store in a sealed package, nothing homemade. I find this both gross, and sad. If you aren't totally understanding what I am saying here, try this:

Unlike the food pyramid you always see, the bottom of my diagram is bad, and the top is yummy delishisness.
You can't top the hard work of someone mixing and measuring the flour, eggs, and what-not. Those preservative laden easy-open packaged imposters try to trick you into thinking they are good and fresh, but that is bull, and you know it! If you are sure that mixing and measuring is not your thing, or even looking to save time, but want to come out looking like a hero, try the pre-made dough, or even the dry cookie mixes found in the baking aisle. You can make these easy-does-it cookies with little effort, and can even add to them, morphing them from okay to "Wow! you made this?!" However...

Baking is a delicate, and attention demanding process. Don't try to rush your product, or forget about it, because you will end up disappointed, and hungry. Everyone that cooks has issues with a product coming out just right. I have over cooked plenty of cookies, and tend to still do that when I am in the kitchen at this time of year. It is easy to get distracted when you are doing so many things at once. I have a few tricks that help me put my cookie care packages together with pride. I make no less than 5 different cookies every year, and that doesn't include the fudge, toffee and truffles I usually make as well. I have much to keep me busy, and my rules make my mountain of self inflicted work look effortless.

1. Some things can be corrected or substituted, if you know what you are doing. But if the recipe calls for white granulated sugar, and all you have is white powdered sugar, DO NOT SUBSTITUTE!!! The only exception is the replacement of shorting for butter. When at all possible, use real butter. You and your taste-buds will thank me. You are welcome.

2. Use your timer. Buy a timer. Borrow a timer. Make sure it is something that will get your attention, just in case you get caught napping in between batches. (!!you should never sleep with the oven on!!) Your recipes will always give you a time range after the oven temp. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes. What are you supposed to do with this!? Do as I do. I set the timer for the lowest time. Come back and judge your product at the sound of the alarm, and either pull them, or reset for another couple minutes. Hover over the oven like a mamma bird. Going from done to burnt happens in a blink.

3. Parchment paper promotes easy clean up and even baking. Get some. Right now. I'll wait.

4. Your oven has a mind of it's own. I don't care if you can roast a rack of lamb in it like America's Top Chef. When you are baking, you get to see all of your oven's personality traits. You don't discover them until you put your fist batch in, and you start noticing that one side is browning, and the other is half baked. Your oven has a hot spot, isn't that adorable? You rotate the sheet so the under cooked side is getting the hot spot and pat your stove with a loving look in your eye. Possibly you set your oven temp, and it preheats as it should, and you pop in your sheets of currently gloppy goodness. You set your timer like I told you to, and came back to burnt product! WTF!? Don't always trust your oven's dial. It is like a woman, but instead of lying about it's weight it lies about it's temp. Bump your temp down 25 degrees, and wait 10 min to put in the next batch. Now this round, time it to the bottom of your time range given, but check those cookies every few min. Just to see how they are getting along. When they are looking good, take note of the time, and set your next batch to the beat of that tune. You are looking like a kitchen genius my friend.

5. I mentioned butter in rule #1. Using it in your baked goods shows you really care about how your product tastes. But there are things you need to do to make sure that your product doesn't fail you. Butter is usually room temp @ mixing time. So that leads to a batter that will spread like lava from a slowly moving volcano. Before you know it, your cookie sheet is one big cookie.  If that happens, say you meant to do that, and ice it like a cake. Add sprinkles, and viola! Cookie cake! But to prevent that from happening, put your raw dough in the fridge for 30 min to an hour. I know that seems like a long time, but hot kitchen + warm dough = hot mess. Prevent the melt down with some chill time. This goes for the cookie sheets too. No don't put them in the fridge, but make sure you aren't adding the dough to hot sheets. This produces the same issues. Allow ample time for cooling between batches.

6. How to make a chewy product: This part is a bit of luck, and a bit of savvy. If you are looking for chewy, pull the product from the oven a min or so early, and cool on wire racks ASAP. But beware, over mixing in the bowl can make any cookie come out crunchy. A gentile touch, and a keen eye. It's science!!

 7. Have fun.

These are but a few of my secrets of cookie conquering. You will never catch me making cookie cuts outs in my kitchen. I buy the pre-made ones and decorate them if I so desire. It is the same with gingerbread houses. I am more for enjoying the act of decorating and spending time with the kids, than making gingerbread walls and royal icing. Buy a kit, save the time for deciding on what candy goes on the roof. No one said if you aren't covered from head to toe in flour you didn't do it right. It could be as simple as breaking off a sugar cookie dough square and rolling it in red and green sugar before you bake it. It isn't the cost or the time, but the effort and love you put into it that makes it special. Go forth and bake cookies people, if for no one but yourself.

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