CRAZY FOR COOKIES

A Favorite for Entertaining or Every Day

From giant chocolate chunk cookies to delicate petits fours, cookies are a universal favorite. No matter what time of year, they make the perfect addition to any occasion. Whip up a batch for your next get-together; all you need is a tasty recipe, basic kitchen equipment, and a craving for some home-baked goodness.

Types of Cookies

When the terms drop, icebox, cutout, pressed, piped, bar, twice-baked, and stenciled are used to describe cookies, they refer to the way the cookies got from the bowl onto the baking sheet. Drop cookies are shaped by simply dropping the dough from a spoon onto a baking sheet, while icebox cookies are shaped into a log and chilled, then sliced and baked. The dough for cutout cookies, such as gingerbread and sugar cookies, is rolled out into a thin sheet, and then cut with cookie cutters or a knife.

If a cookie batter is soft enough, you can press it through a cookie press or pipe it through a pastry bag to give it a special shape; this is the method used for macaroons, madeleines, and spritz cookies. Bar cookies are made from soft batters that are spread in a pan before baking, then cut into individual cookies once baked. Twice-baked cookies are first shaped into a single, large log-shaped cookie, then baked and sliced. Once the cookies are cut into slices, you bake them a second time for a wonderful crisp texture, per­fect for enjoying with coffee or tea.

Very delicate cookies known as tuiles are made by spread­ing a batter in a thin layer in a stencil on a baking sheet. They bake quickly, and when they are removed from the oven, they can be rolled, curled, curved, or draped to make edible containers or elegant garnishes.

Cookie-mixing Methods

Cookies are made using a variety of mixing techniques. Many cookies, like certain quick breads and cakes, are made with the creaming mixing method. The technique, however, varies slightly when applied to cookies rather than muffins. The creaming step is shorter for cookie recipes to keep them from rising too much in the oven. The shorter creaming time also keeps the butter or shortening cooler longer. If the dough becomes too warm as you mix and shape it, the cookies may spread too much and run into each other when they’re baked.

The foam mixing method, used to make sponge and angel food cakes, is also used to make some cookies. Whipping eggs and sugar into a thick foam allows you to make a deli­cate cookie with very little flour. These cookies crumble less than those made by the creaming mixing method and have a delightful resilient texture; fudge brownies and biscotti are two examples of cookies that are made using this technique.

Baking Cookies

Not all cookie recipes require you to grease the pan, so read your recipe carefully before you start. Cooking sprays make it simple to apply a very even but light coating of oil. Or, you can substitute parchment paper or heat-resistant and reusable silicone mats.

Cookie sheets and baking pans should be at room tempera­ture when you grease and fill them; otherwise, the cookie dough might start to bake before it gets in the oven, which results in cookies’ overspreading and overcooking. If you are baking several batches and don’t want to wait for the sheets to cool down between each batch, portion out the remain­der of the cookie batter on additional sheets of parchment paper. Then, you can quickly slide the baked cookies off the baking sheet and slide the parchment filled with unbaked cookies onto the sheet and put it right into the oven.

Keeping Cookies on Hand

The most important step in storing cookies is to let them cool completely on racks before you put them away. A good cookie jar or tin with a tight-fitting lid keeps plump cake-like treats like chocolate chunk cookies from becoming stale. If they start to dry out, you can put an apple slice, skin side down, in the cookie jar; take it out after a day or two.

Because cookies contain a significant amount of sugar (which attracts moisture from the air), they can turn soggy or stick together. If cookies turn soft, carefully separate them and put them on an ungreased cookie sheet in a warm (300- degree F) oven for about five minutes. Very delicate cookies, such as tuiles, may need to be stored with a cushion of waxed or parchment paper between layers to prevent them from drying and breaking under their own weight.

Once bar cookies are cut into pieces, they keep best if they are individually wrapped; exposing the cut edges to the air dries them out. If you prefer, leave them uncut until you are ready to serve them. Most baked cookies freeze well for up to two or three months, wrapped well in plastic or stored in freezer bags or containers with tight lids. Remember to label the cookies and include the date they went into the freezer.

You can also store unbaked cookie dough in the refrigerator or freezer, as long it is made using the creaming mixing method. Form the dough into a log, and then wrap the log well. Cookie dough shaped and wrapped this way stays fresh in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. For longer storage, place the log in the freezer. You can then slice the dough when it is still frozen and transfer it straight to the oven. Dough will last in the freezer for up to four months.

For many of us, eating cookies still warm from the oven is one of our fondest childhood taste memories. Having homemade cookies on hand can be a great source of culi­nary comfort, and the perfect treat for unexpected guests or a spontaneous get-together. Try our chocolate cherry chunk cookies (p. 18) the next time you have a craving for a sweet treat.

BAKER’S TIP

One of the keys to beautiful, evenly baked cookies is mak­ing sure that all the cookies on the baking sheet are the same size, shape, and distance apart from each other. Using an ice cream scoop is the best way to ensure evenness in cookies. Scoops are available in many sizes and make por­tioning cookie dough a snap.

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