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Ten Tips for Baking Better Bar-Cookies

Easier to bake than drop cookies, bar cookies are a treat few can resist.

Here are ten great tips for baking better bars.

1. When making bar cookies, pay close attention to the size of the pan called for in each recipe. Variations can throw off baking times and could affect the texture too. For instance, if the pan is too large the dough may dry out and the bars will be too thin. While if the pan is too small the bars may become gummy in the center or more cakey than they should be.

2. With the exception of bar cookies made with a delicate shortbread base (like lemon bars) you can line the baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil to insure easier removal later. For best results be sure to extend the foil several inches over the pan leaving enough overhang on the two opposing ends to use as handles. The easiest way to shape the foil is to turn the pan upside down, and then smooth the foil around its contours until the right shape is achieved.

3. For bars to boast of and pretty enough to package up and give away, use a large sharp chef's knife to trim away the outer dry edges of the bars before cutting them, wiping the blade clean with a damp towel after each cut.

4. Never use diet or whipped margarine or any product labeled "spread" in your bar cookies, the results will be regretful.

5. Like any other cookie dough, be sure once you add the flour to the batter (as well as other dry ingredients) you don't over-mix the dough. Too much handling will develop the gluten in the flour producing tough bar cookies.

6. To allow for fluctuations in oven temperatures, be sure to check your bar cookies at least a couple minutes before the minimum baking time suggested has elapsed.

7. Use vegetable shortening, nonstick vegetable spray, or unsalted butter or margarine to grease baking sheets and pans. Salted butter may cause bar cookies to stick and over brown on the bottom.

8. If using a glass baking pan instead of one made of metal make sure you reduce the oven temperature by 25°F (10°C).

9. Generally, bar cookies are done when a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean or a moist not wet crumb is adhered to it.

10. Ideally bar cookies should be cooled and stored right in the baking pan, though most are cut after they've cooled. The exception is crisp-style bars, which must be cut while warm--before they crisp--to prevent unsightly crumbling.

Source: Laurann Claridge, Chef and Food Talk Columnist of the Houston Chronicle, Houston, Texas USA.

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