Ok...so it has occured to me, that maybe I should blog about how to get cookies to turn out better. I have had several people ask me how I get my cookies to come out the way they do - that being, well formed and beautifully cooked. If I do say so myself. (Sheepish grin here) The decoration is really the impressive part if you ask me, but people assume they can't do that part, and only ask for tips on the baking. So here they are....my top tips for baking better cookies.
Tip #1 - USE PARCHMENT PAPER!! I use parchment paper for 2 purposes. I roll my dough out on it, and I bake on it. I like it for rolling dough because that way I don't have to try to remove the cut shapes from my counter while trying not to distort them. I still flour the surface (the paper) for rolling, I just roll them on the paper and cut them there too. Then, once my parchment is full of cookies, I DO NOT put it directly in the oven (see tip #2) but I will bake them right on the paper. Why? Again, no transfer means better shapes, but also - they NEVER stick! If you have ever broken or smooshed a cookie whilst scraping it off your cookie sheet, you will understand!
Tip #2 - Freeze the cut shapes! I put my cookie sheet full of raw cut shapes into the freezer before they go in the oven. Seems a bit odd, I know, but it really keeps the dough from spreading while it bakes. Basically, I leave them in the freezer for the same amount of time I would bake them. I rotate 3 cookie sheets. One is in the freezer, the second is in the oven, and the third is cooling on the counter.
Tip #3 - This one, I just discovered this week! When you chill the dough (and you HAVE to chill the dough to make it easier to work with) chill the dough flat! I had been just sticking my dough in a bowl in the fridge all this time. Don't get me wrong, it chills it just fine, and it works okay....but my new method is much better. I take the pile of dough and plop it onto a long sheet of plastic wrap as soon as it's mixed up. Then, fold the plastic wrap over it and flatten it out so it's about an inch thick. I wrap the plastic around it so it's all covered, and then I can stick it on a tray in the fridge, and stack more flat dough on top if it. It takes up less space in the refrigerator and it rolls out so much faster when you aren't starting with a lumpy pile scooped from the bowl.
Tip #4 - If you want very well formed cookies, you need to prevent them from spreading as they bake. We are already adding the extra step in the freezer, and of course, rolling right on the parchment it will be baked on so we don't have to transfer them. So, take it one step further and minimize the chemical reactions that cause spreading. (Sorry, but I am a science geek through and through!) Specifically, drastically reduce or even eliminate the baking powder from the recipe. My recipe orginally had 2 teaspoons of baking powder. I have modified it over time and now I barely use 1/2 teaspoon!
For all you pros out there, these probably aren't tips at all, because I imagine you already know these things. But, maybe I can help a few home bakers to perfect their holiday baking. If you have any other great tips, please share them with us in the comments. I am sure my readers would love to see what others have to say as well.