Not all cookies are created equal and I am not talking about the quality of the recipe here. I am referring to the odd things people do while baking. I often feel sorry for the poor little cookies that get blamed for being bad when really the fault lies with haphazard technique. I know, you are thinking a recipe, is a recipe, is a recipe. And, the recipe is either good or bad independent of you the baker. Absolutely Not True! Permit me to ask a few questions:
1. How long have you used the same cookie recipe?
2. Does it always turn out the same?
3. Have you ever passed along that recipe to a friend?
4. Are their cookies different from yours even though you are using the same recipe?
So, presuming everyone is measuring accurately, it all comes down to technique. There are all sorts of incremental steps that people do improperly that add up to pitiful cookies. So, here is the proper technique for making a cookie using the creaming method.This applies to any cookie recipe that begins with "Cream the butter and sugar together."
Tip 1: Be the Goldilocks of baking and make sure the temperature is just right.
Cookie batters made with "room temperature" ingredients are smooth and evenly incorporated. Let's face it, cold ingredients don’t blend easily or evenly potentially resulting in dense, undesirable cookies. When you are making creamed cookies, you have to be mindful of the temperature of two main ingredients.
Butter: Most cookbooks suggest using "room temperature" butter which is an annoyingly vague concept especially by picky pastry chef standards. Room temperature to who, where and what time of year? And in most cases, actual room temperature butter, 70 degrees or warmer, is too soft, greasy and not up to the task of creaming. I prefer butter between 60-65 degrees. At this temperature, the butter should give slightly when pressed with a fingertip and be cool to the touch but warm enough to be pliable.
One of the things that distinguishes "room temperature" butter from liquid fats, like oil or melted butter, is the ability to hold air. This is why you beat fat and sugar “until light and fluffy.” This creates microscopic air bubbles. If your butter is too cold, though, the fat and sugar won’t mix, resulting in fewer bubbles. Butter that is too warm won’t support the incorporation of air.
Eggs: Yes, your eggs needs to be the correct temperature as well, although this is not nearly as precise as the temperature of butter. At room temperature, eggs and butter form an emulsion that maintains the air you developed during creaming. During baking, the air expands, producing light, airy, perfectly textured baked treats. Adding cold eggs could re-harden the fat, making the batter appear curdled or lumpy. This affects the final texture of the baked cookie.
Tip 2: Don't cheat or check-out.
What this really means is pay attention and do the proper mixing method, the same way, every time. It cannot come as a surprise that if you do, your cookies will always turn out the same way, batch after batch. What's even better is all creamed cookies get mixed together using exactly the same technique. This is good news for you because if you can make one creamed cookie well, you can make them all! I have highlighted the proper steps below. There is more detail to some of these steps then would be reasonable for this post. So, as I needed to elaborate, digress or ramble, I have linked to the appropriate blog.
Step 1. Cream the fat and sugar(s) together until light and fluffy.
This is the first step in many cookie recipes, but is rarely ever explained well. Most people don't know what it is, why it matters and how to do it correctly. So do not be embarrassed if you need little extra creaming 101. You can read more in the How to Cream Properly blog, but the quick tip is do not skimp on time!
Step 2. Add the room temperature eggs one at a time, on low speed, scraping between each addition.
After creaming the butter and sugar together, the next ingredient to add is the room temperature eggs. They should be added one at a time, each egg being thoroughly mixed in before the next one is added. It will take a bit of time, but resist the urge to just crank up the speed on the mixer. The goal here is to get the eggs completely emulsified into the creamed mixture while maintaining the air bubbles and without aerating the eggs. I know, I know, what is an emulsion? In simple terms, it is when two unlike things, like fat and liquid, decide to get along. So, by adding eggs one at a time, you help ensure that the eggs mix with the butter, rather than just mixing with each other. You will know if you did it wrong if the butter looks curdled, broken or grainy.
Step 3. Thoroughly mix the dry ingredients together before adding to the butter mixture.
This may seem like a silly step and you may be thinking the mixer will take of that. You would be wrong. If you do not mix the dry ingredients first, you can be left with large pockets of things like baking soda, salt or xanthan gum. Nobody wants that bite!
Step 4. Mix in the dry ingredients in several additions, scraping often.
While it may seem like more work then just dumping everything in the bowl, batters come together more quickly, are smoother and more evenly mixed when the dry ingredients are added in a couple of additions.
Tip 3: Add-ins are stirred in...by hand.
I always like to stir in things like chocolate chips, dried fruit and toasted nuts by hand. I find the machine a little too violent and it tends to beat up these tasty morsels. I can also get them more evenly mixed, faster. There is some phenomenon that occurs where all the bits fall right to the bottom or sit right on top without effectively being mixed into to the dough.
Tip 4: Practice practically perfect portions.
I absolutely hate the instructions "Drop the cookie dough by rounded spoonfuls..." Whatever does this mean? How do you know what size that is supposed to be? And is it really any wonder that baking times are almost never correct? We recommend using a small ice cream scoop, or better yet, a scale so that all of your cookies are the same size. Even size, even baking.
If you have any tips you use in your kitchen, please share them with us. Happy Baking!