Food & Entertaining - Food Tips

The essentials of baking cookies and brownies

Baking the perfect cookie or brownie is easy if you follow these simple rules.

Cookies are miniature versions of moist cakes, dry pastries, and often something in between. Many cookie doughs are made like cake batters, but with more flour and less liquid. Cookie doughs and batters refrigerate well and take only a few minutes to cook, so they're easy to bake fresh.

Cookie doughs often have very little moisture, and small changes in proportions can cause big differences in consistency and how much the dough pieces spread when baked.

The flour for cookie doughs and batters
is usually a low-protein pastry, cake, or southern all-purpose flour, to produce the tenderest result.

National all-purpose flours make more gluten and absorb more moisture, so substituting with them will produce less tender, drier cookies that spread less when baked.

To make more tender cookies with all-purpose flour, replace a quarter of the flour weight with cornstarch.

Cocoa powder, chocolate, and ground nuts, including nut butters and meals, can replace some or all of the flour in cookies while also tenderizing and intensifying flavor. They contain starch or starchlike particles and fat, but no toughening protein.

Real butter is essential for a good texture in cookies whose recipes call for it. Don't substitute margarine or low-fat spreads.

To make most cookie doughs
, beat butter or shortening with sugar to develop leavening air bubbles. If the recipe includes leavening, whisk it thoroughly with the flour to disperse it evenly and avoid uneven texture and unpleasant taste. Mix in the flour and then the eggs, adding them one at a time to blend them evenly. Minimize the final mixing to avoid developing gluten or causing the egg proteins to foam.

Rest cookie doughs in the refrigerator
for hours to even out moisture and relax gluten, and to firm the fat and produce neater edges.

To develop more flavour, refrigerate doughs
for days wrapped airtight.
Refrigerated doughs slowly break down some starch and protein, and make progressively darker and more flavorful cookies.

Freeze doughs to keep them for more than a few days, presliced to avoid thawing and refreezing.

Size dough pieces according to the cookie qualities you want, small for uniformly crisp or soft, large for crisp edge and moist centre.

Bake cookies on a heavy-gauge sheet pan for the most consistent results. Line the pan with a silicone sheet, parchment, or other nonstick surface. Space the dough pieces to leave room for spreading. In a standard oven without convection to circulate the hot air, bake one pan at a time on the middle rack, rotating the pan if necessary for even heating.

Monitor cookie doneness closely. Cooking times are short.

Allow cookies to cool and firm somewhat before removing them from the pan. If they cool enough to stick, return the pan to the oven for a minute or two to release them.

Before storing cookies, cool them thoroughly on a rack to release free moisture and prevent spoilage. Store in an airtight container to prevent moisture loss or gain.

To soften hardened cookies, warm them in a medium oven for a few minutes, or microwave on medium power for a few seconds.

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