Chef's Hat: Traditional holiday season needs cookies | - Pineandlakes Echo Journal

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Chef's Hat: Traditional holiday season needs cookies

Posted: December 11, 2013 - 12:56pm

Baking cookies and giving them to friends, neighbors and co-workers is a time-honored tradition of the holiday season.

A quick glance at my email showed me that no fewer than three friends spent a big chunk of the weekend mixing, baking and frosting.

I’m sorry to say I have not opened that first bag of sugar. Winter storms, colds and work schedules seem to be cutting into my cooking and baking time. I just wonder if anyone would know the difference if I bought cookies and put them in my own containers? Hmmm, guess that’s an idea.

Most people have a few tried-and-true cookie recipes they always use and that turn out well. But in case you are trying something new or if your cookies have not turned out quite as you expected, following are a few cookie-making tips that might come in handy.

• Tip one: Don’t overbeat or underbeat the butter and sugar. This mixture should be a pale yellow in color and fluffy. Done correctly, air bubbles are formed and they expand during baking to help the cookies rise. If you overbeat the mixture, the air bubbles break down and during baking the cookies will remain flat and dense.

• Tip two: Don’t place the cookies too close together on the baking sheet. Make sure the cookies have enough space to spread.

• Tip three: Don’t overmix the cookie batter. Overmixing will activate the gluten in the flour, which will lead to chewier and tougher cookies. Beat in the flour on low speed (or with a spoon) just until combined.

• Tip four: Don’t overbake the cookies. Check the cookies at the minimum baking time and remove them when they are lightly golden on the top. Even a tiny bit of extra time can lead to cookies that are too dark and get very hard once they have cooled.

• Tip five: Don’t substitute ingredients. Although baking is not an exact science, making crazy substitutions can cause problems and lead to undercooked, overcooked or just plain bad-tasting cookies.

• Tip six: Use fresh ingredients. Baking staples, such as flour, baking soda, spices and vanilla, do last a long time, but they don’t last forever. Spices lose their potency after a year. So if you’ve had those little jars of spices for more years than you can remember, it’s time to throw them out and buy new.

• Tip seven, which should be the first thing you do: Read your recipe before you start! Then you can make sure you have all of the ingredients you need, plus you’ll know if there are any special requirements, such as refrigerating the dough, before you begin.

There’s nothing more annoying than being halfway through the recipe and realizing you don’t have the necessary ingredients. (And remember tip five — substituting is not a good option!)

If you’re wondering why one of those tried-and-true recipes didn’t work out, maybe one of the above tips will help you the next time you’re in the kitchen and baking up that batch of sugar cookies to take to the next holiday party.

Happy baking and happy eating!

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