Whether you know how to make cookies or you are just learning, today I'm going to go over how to make the best cookie possible. I learned to make the perfect chocolate chip cookies far before graduation from the Culinary Institute of America as a professional chef.
I'm about to share with you some of the most important things you need to know about how to make cookies. Making a great batch of this classic treat isn't rocket science, it just takes a little practice. Throw on an apron and join me!
How I learned
Growing up on a big farm, everyone in my family had their own jobs to do. One of my main jobs was in the kitchen. The first thing I learned was how to make cookies. I was lucky enough to have a patient mother who was both an excellent baker and cook.
I started to learn by watching her methods and modes. In the back of my mind, my interest most likely started with licking the beaters and then wanting to recreate the same magical tastes. My first batch was the eternally popular toll house cookie found on the Nestle chocolate chip package. I know the recipe by heart as I know my birth date, social security number, and address.
The easy cookie recipe is not only delicious and easy but uses the basic skills you need to make the best cookies. Making this basic chocolate chip cookie is sort of like taking Cookies 101. By carefully following the directions, you will learn the right way to make cookies.
Basic ingredients for cookies
Whether you know how to make cookies or you are a beginner, there are many different ingredients you can use to make both chewy and crispy cookies alike. You may even want to make no-bake cookies!
If you are a beginner who is learning how to make cookies, you will need to have some very basic ingredients on hand.
All-Purpose Flour - This is the workhorse of flours and is the best kind of flour to make cookies with. You can use white or unbleached flour. Either will work.
There are many other different types of flour. Cake flour, whole wheat flour, and bread flour, to name a few. Only use these if the original recipe calls for it.
- How to Measure Flour: Using a measuring cup, loosely fill it with flour and then level the flour off using the flat side of a table knife. Do not pack the flour in the measuring cup!
Butter - When picking up your ingredients, you'll see that there is regular butter and unsalted butter. Generally, I don’t get too concerned about salted butter vs. unsalted EXCEPT if you are supposed to follow a low-sodium diet.
If you’re using salted butter, you can knock off about ⅓ teaspoon of added salt per teaspoon in any recipe.
- Butter and sugar, along with egg, are often creamed together in a separate bowl.
- Your creamed mixture should be soft and smooth.
When baking, it is best to use butter that is at room temperature. This allows for creaming the sugar and egg together. If the butter is too warm, it starts to melt and makes a wet batter. This will affect the texture and shape.
If the butter is too cold, it won’t blend with the other ingredients and you will end up with a lumpy batter.
Pro Kitchen Tip: Unsalted butter has a shorter shelf life and salted butter has a longer shelf life. (Because salt is a preservative.)
Eggs - You want to use large eggs for making the best cookies. Also, eggs should be at room temperature to allow for a more even baking process. Here is a quick way to get eggs to room temperature. For food safety reasons, never leave eggs out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours!
Baking Soda - This is what will make yummy baked treats rise in the oven. Always use a pen or sharpie to date your baking soda. Once it hits the 6-month mark, get rid of it!
Beyond that point, it starts to lose its effectiveness. For the best cookies, make sure your baking soda is fresh.
Baking Powder - If a cookie recipe calls for baking powder, make sure it is less than 6 months old as well.
If you've asked, "What's the difference between baking soda and baking powder?" we can help answer that question! Both are leavening agents but work in different ways.
White Sugar - This not only adds sweetness to your baked goods but also adds browns by caramelization that takes place during the baking. This helps to turn your favorite cookies golden brown.
You'll mix the ingredients in a separate mixing bowl from the butter and sugar mixture. These will then be combined into one bowl.
- Gradually add the dry ingredients to the bowl of wet ingredients.
- Do not over-mix the try ingredients with the wet ones, or you will end up with a tough cookie (not what you want!)
Sugar should be measured with stainless steel or plastic measuring cups and leveled off with the back of a knife. This is done the same way that you measure flour using measuring cups.
Brown Sugar - Unlike flour, brown sugar needs to be packed into your stainless or plastic measuring cup. This is so you will get the correct amount asked for in any recipe.
Brown sugar has molasses in it, which makes it sticky. Brown sugar also helps your cookie retain moisture and add color.
Vanilla is a basic flavoring for many things and can often be substituted for other flavorings. It is a must in classic chocolate chip cookies.
I use both imitation and pure vanilla extract while baking. The only difference I notice between the two is the price at the cash register.
Kitchen tools you need
An Oven - Unless you're making no-bake cookies, you'll need an oven in order to make them. If you are using a convection oven you should plan on dropping your baking temperature by about 25 degrees. Many newer convection ovens will do this automatically.
Pro Kitchen Tip: Make sure that you preheat your oven. Give yourself enough time for the oven to adjust to the correct temperature, if necessary (using your oven thermometer.)
Timing is a very important step when learning how to make cookies. This will naturally develop as you get more experience while you bake cookies. Baking time will also determine your cookie texture.
- Slightly under-baking will give you soft cookies with chewy middles.
- Leaving them in the oven a bit longer will make a dryer cookie that is perfect for dunking in a tall glass of cold milk or hot tea.
Pro-Kitchen Tip: I rarely time my cookies to an exact bake time but instead set a timer 2 minutes before the required bake time in the recipe. Different ovens using ingredients from the same recipe can produce a little different cookie.
Oven Thermometer - You may need one of these to monitor your oven temperature. Most ovens are 10 or 15 degrees out of whack. Mine happens to be 50 degrees off, which is crazy.
Being a professionally trained chef, I’ve learned how to deal with this. The right temperature for baking will help you to make perfect cookies. Not too dark, not raw in the middle, but just right! (The kind that Goldie Lox would go for.)
Measuring Cups - When it comes to measuring ingredients for making cookies, there are two types of measuring cups.
- Plastic or stainless steel measuring cups (which you can't see through) are for measuring out dry ingredients and non-liquid ingredients like room temperature butter or shortening.
You’ll have a choice between plastic and stainless steel. I happen to prefer the stainless, it’s more sturdy, and I’ve had plastic cups that were actually off in measurements.
2. Glass or plastic beaker-like measuring cups are for liquid ingredients such as milk or water.
Pyrex is the gold standard for measuring liquids. Because it is glass and you can see through to the red measuring marks. It has incremental units, including ounces, cups, and milliliters.
Pyrex can be heated, in both the microwave and conventional oven, making for a very handy tool for melting solids into liquid. The open-ended handle is designed to easily be grabbed with an oven mitt if need be.
Pro-Kitchen Tip: - It’s good to learn common measurements; it will save you lots of time in the long run.
- 1 stick of butter equals 4oz. equals ½ a cup equals eight tablespoons equal 24 teaspoons, and - you get the picture.
Measuring Spoons - When you're learning how to bake cookies, you'll use measuring spoons the same way as measuring cups. Level dry ingredients off using the flat side of a table knife.
For measuring cups and measuring spoons, buy the best you can afford. Try to buy ones that come from companies that specialize in baking products and are made in the good ole' USA!
Kitchen Scale - For learning how to make cookies, you may want to invest in a kitchen scale. You'll get the most accurate measurements this way and can use it for evenly dividing dough as well. I have never regretted having one of these in my kitchen!
Mixing Bowls - These come in a variety of sizes. You'll want a mixing bowl for every need.
- Small bowl (1.5 to 2.5-quarts),
- Medium bowl (2.5-3quarts)
- Large bowl (4-6quarts).
Stainless steel is great for chilling and cooling down cookie dough. This will also help make that golden brown, perfect cookie that everyone loves.
If your recipe asks to make dough balls, stainless steel is a great conductor of cold and heat. You can make your dough ball ahead of time and pop some on your cookie sheet. Then place the bowl back in the fridge between batches.
I also have plastic for mixing dry ingredients before adding them to the wet. You can of course, use a plastic mixing bowl for chilling but metal is more efficient for chilling cookie dough.
How to make cookie dough
When I first was learning how to make cookies, my mom had me stir them up with a wooden spoon. (I love Oxo Good Grips 3 Piece Set.) Back then, I used a fork to mix the egg, but now I always use a whisk.
Mixing by hand will allow you to see the different stages of making cookie dough. By slowing things down, you can better see the developing textures, colors, and thickness of what you are mixing.
Once you are familiar with how the stages of how your dough should appear, you can move on to an electric hand mixer.
Whether mixing cookie dough by hand or with an electric mixer, you're going to want to have a rubber spatula on hand. Use this to occasionally scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl. When it's time to transfer the cookie dough to a baking sheet, a rubber spatula will help you to get every last bit of dough with no waste!
When it's time to bake
Cookie Sheets are a very big deal when it comes to making the best cookies. For the beginner, I suggest buying Wear-Ever by Vollrath or the USA Pan Half Sheet. These sheets are a good gauge & weight. They don’t warp and are long-lived.
I’ve tried the sandwiched-tiered type of cookie sheets. They’re good for delicate cookies but be careful when cleaning. They take on water between the layers if you're not careful. Cookies also like to slide right off these pans and sometimes end up on the floor.
Dark baking sheets tend to bake faster on the bottom and may end up burning your cookies. Non-stick baking sheets can work OK for a while but end up scratching. This can expose layers of material that might not be all that healthy to come in contact with food.
Skip the cheap cookie sheets They have uneven heating and warp and tend to burn easily. In the end, they are a waste of your money because they are low functioning and short-lived.
Off-Set Spatulas (aka Flipper or Tuner) will help you get these off the sheet pan and onto a cooling wire rack. If you are using nonstick pans, be sure to use a silicone spatula that can take the heat.
If you are using a metal baking pan, I suggest having a longer solid flipper and a wide, flexible slotted turner.
Wire Racks are great to have for baking. If you leave the cookies on the baking sheet, they continue to cook even after you take them out of the oven. You want to get them off the pan ASAP.
Pro Kitchen Tip: Generally, I let my cookies cool a smidge before removing, giving them just enough time to set- maybe 30 seconds. If you don't have a wire rack, don’t worry. You can use parchment paper, aluminum foil, or even wax paper.
How to store cookies
Whether making simple sugar cookies to be decorated later or easy chocolate chip cookies that will be eaten soon, an air-tight container is your best way to keep them fresh tasting.
Once completely cooled, just slip those delicious cookies into a large airtight container. I like to put wax or parchment between each layer and try to keep it at three layers deep. Cookies with chewy middles are stored in a single layer.
You worked hard to bake these and don’t want to ruin them by squashing them at the end.
For bake sales, paper plates can be cut to fit the interior of a zip lock bag. This will help keep them stable. Peanut butter cookies, oatmeal cookies, or even chewy chocolate chip cookies are all good choices for bake sales.
If they are small & delicate or have chewy middles, you’ll probably want to use a smaller bag, around quart size.
Other kinds of cookies
If you're just learning how to make cookies, then you need to know there are many different types you can make.
Bar Cookies cookies are popular at Christmas time. They can be made with almost any drop cookie dough recipe. But they can be dressed up with nuts, Christmas-colored M&Ms, and almost anything that you can come up with.
Cream cheese mixed with raspberry jam is one of my favorites.
Cut-Out Cookies, like gingerbread and sugar cookies, are often refrigerator cookies. Although there are simple sugar cookies and ginger cookies that can be made with the drop method as well.
For the rolled cut-outs, the dough is mixed, then made into a flat package, wrapped, and chilled. After an hour or two, you can take the solid package out and roll it to the correct thinness for cutting.
Pro-Kitchen Tip: When making cut-out cookies, dip the cookie cutter into a bowl of flour. Tap off the excess flour or use a pastry brush to do this. Your cutter will now cut through the dough like a knife through hot butter!
Pro Kitchen Tip: When using cookie cutters, I have a little pile of flour that I dip the cutter in before each shade is made. This prevents the dough from sticking to the cutter.
Once shapes are placed on the pan, a gentle swipe of a pastry brush will get rid of any excess flour that clings to your shape before placing the cookie sheet in the oven. The dough can go back in the fridge until the next batch is needed for baking.
Filled cookies are basically a cookie dough sandwich filled with goodies and baked. The dough is mixed, chilled, rolled, filled, and baked.
When mailing cookies as gifts and care packages, you need to consider the approximate length of time until delivery.
You also have to think about where they are going and the climate of the delivery location. You probably won’t have good luck with chocolate and high-fat content cookies mailed to southern states or tropical areas.
You’ll want to wrap "slice and bake" cookies and roll-out cookies loosely in plastic wrap. Three or four should be the limit per bundle.
Be generous with the use of plastic wrap. Loosely wrapped cookies in several layers of wrap will provide cushioning.
Wrap brownies and bar cookies individually, using the same amount of wrapping, generous and loose
Drop cookies, meringue, and biscotti should be wrapped with their bottoms together in packages of 2.
The size of your container will determine how much padding you need. Line the shipping box with peanuts and use bubble wrap as a cushion between layers. You might have assorted tins or plastic disposable containers for use as well.
Most cookies freeze well for up to a month. Just be sure to allow them to cool before freezing. Then, use plastic wrap to wrap them and ensure there are no air pockets.
Yes. Wrap the dough in your favorite plastic kitchen wrap, being sure there are no air bubbles. Cookie dough can be safely frozen for up to 3 months. Allow thawing overnight in the fridge before baking.
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