Baking cookies isn’t rocket science, but a few flubs could be keeping your sweet treats from tasting their best.
1. Substituting Ingredients
Baking is an exact science. You can’t go crazy making substitutions (whole wheat flour for white, Greek yogurt for cream cheese, white sugar for brown, you see where we’re going here), and then wonder why your cookies didn’t turn out like the photo. If you don’t want to make the cookie the way the recipe directs, you’re better off using a different recipe.
2. Using Old Ingredients
Baking staples last for a while in your pantry, but they’re not immortal. Spices lose their potency after a year, so if you’ve been using the same little jars of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, etc., for the past few years, it’s time to heave-ho. The same goes for your baking powder and baking soda. To test if baking powder is still viable, add 1/2 teaspoon of it to 1/2 cup hot water. If it fizzes and bubbles, you’re good to go. To test baking soda, do the same thing, but add a 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar to the water before adding the soda.
3. Not Chilling the Dough
When using cookie cutters, chilling is a buttery cookie dough’s best defense against becoming difficult to work with and spreading into a blob while baking. If your dough ever becomes too difficult to shape or roll, pop it in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes and try again. Then, once the cookies are cut, always chill them on the cookie sheet until very firm before baking for nicely detailed shapes. If the cut-outs are cutting, but not outing, chilling will also help set the dough enough to pry up your cut-outs without ripping off that poor gingerbread man’s arm (this only really works if you had the foresight to roll and cut on parchment, then you can just drag the whole sheet of parchment with the dough on it onto a cookie sheet and stick it in the fridge).
4. Overusing the Rolling Pin
Every time you roll out the dough, you’re “working” it. And what do we hear all the time about making pastry? “Don’t overwork the dough!” Gather, chill, and reroll scraps just once, then ditch whatever scraps remain from that batch.
5. Using Your Hands
Your hands are the best tools in the kitchen until, you know, they’re not. Sure, you can use your actual thumbs for thumbprint cookies, but the floured, perfectly rounded end of a wooden spoon will make a much neater, more uniform indentation. Instead of using your hands to press the dough into the baking pan for white chocolate macadamia nut bars, add the dough to the baking pan, spread it out with your hands, then cover it with parchment and press down with another baking pan or even use a large measuring cup to press it down for a smooth, even crust. Don’t forget to remove and discard the parchment.
6. Not letting Pans Cool in between Each Use
I don’t know of many households with more than two cookie sheets, so inevitably, when making big batches of cookies, you’ll have to reuse them over and over again during the same baking session. In between batches, make sure to let the sheets cool to the touch, then run them under cold water (or stick them in the fridge) until thoroughly cool and wipe dry before reusing.
7. Baking Multiple Sheets at once and not Switching their Position
Baking two sheets of cookies at a time is not ideal for picture-perfect cookie making, but it works if you’re in a rush or if a recipe yields a ton of cookies. Just make sure to set your racks about a third from the top and a third from the bottom and always switch the position of the sheets at least once, around halfway through cooking. Depending on your oven, you might even have to switch them twice or leave one sheet in a bit longer. You’ll be able to tell just by looking at them if they’re not baking at the same rate.
8. Not making the Icing the Right Consistency
If you’re making your own ornamental frosting, you’ll want to make sure it’s the perfect consistency for what you’re trying to achieve. For outlining and more detailed work, make sure your icing is a little stiffer (a bit runnier than cake frosting). For “flooding” and filling, you’ll want to add a few extra drops of warm water, which will make it even runnier so it’ll spread smoothly before setting. Confused already? Try these nifty squeezable icing dispensers from Wilton instead.
9. Not using a Bag for Chocolate Drizzle
And what if you’re less of a royal icing fan and more of a chocolate drizzle kind of gal? While it’s tempting to use the tines of a fork to do that artful, yet casual splish-splash of chocolate on cookies, bars, and biscotti, using a sandwich-sized resealable bag will yield much cleaner and more attractive results. Simply spoon your melted chocolate into the bag, push it into one of the bottom corners, squeeze out the excess air, twist the opening closed, then snip off a teensy bit of the corner that the chocolate is in. Boom! Insta-piping bag. Using gentle, but consistent pressure, pipe the chocolate back and forth over your cookies (practice on a plate first to get a feel for it). For quicker clean-up, place the cookies on a wire rack with a sheet of waxed paper or foil under the rack before topping with chocolate.