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Baking the Best Cookies

One of life's simple pleasures is enjoying the delightful taste of a home-baked cookie still warm from the oven.

Here are some tips to consider when baking your favorite cookie, whether it be a sparkling sugar cookie cut into whimsical figures, a chewy-gooey chocolate chip cookie, or an oatmeal cookie studded with raisins and nuts.

  1. First and foremost, always preheat your oven and position oven racks (normally the top shelves, unless otherwise instructed) 10 to 15 minutes before you need to bake. To be sure of your oven's temperature accuracy, try keeping an oven thermometer in the oven at all times and make adjustments for the temperature accordingly.
  2. Butter should always be used at room temperature or slightly. Cold, hard butter will not cream as easily when you incorporate it with the sugar resulting in flat, so-so cookies.
  3. Always use large eggs, ground spices, and all-purpose flour, unless otherwise indicated.
  4. If a recipe calls for light or dark brown sugar be sure you firmly pack it into the measuring cup for an accurate measurement.
  5. When using nuts, be sure to toast them before adding them to the batter for maximum flavor. (Also taste them before using to make sure they haven't gone rancid.)
  6. Don't use imitation vanilla extract--use the real stuff--it does make a difference.
  7. Use only real chocolate. Those chocolate-flavored morsels are cheaper, and that's exactly what they taste like.
  8. When adding dried fruit like raisins or currants to the dough make sure they are soft, not hard and shriveled. To reconstitute hard, dried fruit pour boiling water over them, let sit 4 to 5 minutes then strain. Proceed as recipe directs.
  9. Keep the cookie size consistent. Measure the batter out carefully so all the cookies will be the same size and thus they'll all bake at the same speed.
  10. Halfway through baking remember to reverse the top and bottom sheets and also rotate each cookie sheet from front to back.
  11. If the recipe specifies, for example baking cookies 10 to 12 minutes, check them at 10 minutes, but to be on the safe side, take a peak after 8 or 9 minutes of cooking. Prefer soft and chewy cookies? Then just under bake them a bit and allow to cool several minutes on baking sheets before transferring to a cooling rack.
  12. Only bake one or two cookie sheets at a time. And if you're making several batches of cookies make sure you cool the cookie sheet completely before using it again or your batter is apt to melt and run off the pan.
  13. Shiny, light colored cookie sheets do a better job of evenly browning the bottoms of cookies than dark sheets do. Shiny silver sheets heat much more evenly, and if sticking is a concern use parchment baking paper for the best results. The paper also keeps the bottom of the cookies from over-browning. Parchment paper can be reused several times, both front and back.
  14. Lastly, but not least, store completely cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

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