Test Kitchen Tips for Cookie Recipes
Improve your baking with these core cookie techniques.
ESSENTIAL GEAR: RIMMED BAKING SHEETS
In the test kitchen, we use rimmed baking sheets—known as half sheet pans in restaurant kitchens—for baking cookies and biscuits and scones, roasting potatoes and other vegetables, and even cooking holiday roasts (usually with a wire cooling rack set inside to promote air circulation). Our favorite pan, from Wear-Ever, heats evenly, is sturdy and doesn’t buckle at high temperatures or with heavy loads, and is roomy enough to accommodate most anything a home cook could throw at it. We recommend buying two of these pans: They are very durable and you’ll find countless uses for them once you have them in your kitchen.
Core Techniques for All Cookie Recipes
MEASURE INGREDIENTS ACCURATELY
American home bakers have long liked to measure their ingredients by volume, but lately there has been a move toward weighing, a technique wholly endorsed by the test kitchen. We continue to include volume measurements for home cooks who don’t own scales, but we also include weights of ingredients like flour and sugar.
Measuring by volume can create up to a 20 percent difference in the weight of the ingredient used. If you’re measuring by volume, use the dip-and-sweep method for dry ingredients like flour and cocoa powder for the most consistent measurements: Dip a dry measuring cup into the container, fill it, and then sweep across the top with a straight edge (say, a butter knife or icing spatula) to get rid of the excess.
If you’re using a scale, it’s worth it to invest in a good one. Our favorite is the OXO Food Scale.
When set to “bake,” most ovens heat from the bottom. So sheets baked concurrently on separate oven racks—standard for many recipes—will bake unevenly. We recommend that you bake one sheet of these cookies at a time. To guarantee even browning, rotate the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through baking. If you have just one baking sheet, let it cool between batches or your cookies will spread too much.
Key Ingredient: Vanilla Extract
Is pure vanilla extract worth its expensive price tag? Well, yes and no. Pure extract came out on top in our recent taste test pitting pure versus imitation extracts, with one caveat: Many of the flavor compounds in pure vanilla are destroyed when baked at temperatures hotter than 300 degrees. But pure extract is far superior to imitation when used in uncooked and gently cooked recipes. So if you’re buying only one bottle for many uses, go with pure extract. For all-purpose baking, our second place winner, CF Sauer Gold Medal Imitation Vanilla Extract, is just fine and much cheaper.