Over the years many people have commented on how my cookies and baked goodies always seem to turn our so well. But honestly, I don’t have any great “secrets” or anything like that, I start with a recipe like most do and then go from there. Here’s my baking style:
- I alway go to site where recipes can be reviewed, like www.recipezaar.com or www.allrecipes.com. I make sure to read all of the reviews (or a bulk of them) to see what others had to say about it, tips they share, and any adjustments to the recipe that they felt made the recipe better.
- Substitutions…alway a tricky playground until you really know what you are doing. My husband always tells me to focus on 1 ingredient, don’t make too many substitutions at once. That way if it doesn’t come out right you’ll know exactly why. The “cheats” I use most often that seem to work out are: to replace some of the white flour with whole wheat (about 1Tbls less wheat for every 1 cup of white), cut down just a bit on the butter (especially in scone recipes), use only about 1/2 to 2/3 of chips called for in cookies, replace butter or oil with applesauce for cake and muffins.
- Mixer, what’s that? For as often as I bake (at least once a week) I hardly EVER use any sort of mixer, even for cakes. I just rely on good ol’ elbow grease to get
things mixed, and it helps a lot to have a good quality scraper/spatula (I used the pampered chef ones). I personally think the mixer whips in too much air, resulting in a fluffier cookie or cake and I prefer a denser/tighter texture. I figure that since past generations all over churned out delicious goodies without a mixer then I don’t need one either!
- Nothing about baking tempts me into throwing a temper tantrum more then a batch of cookies that have spread! They are too crisp, not nearly as attractive (to me), and do not have the blend of textures that I like. A thick cookie has slightly crisp edges or a crisp outer “shell”, but then you also get a soft and chewy middle. A big factor in how your cookies will turn out is the temperature of your butter. I always use room-temp butter, never melted butter. If you are in a hurry you can microwave it at 50% power until it gets softened. If your dough still feels a little thin (this is also why I never use a mixer, I can’t “feel” or gauge the stiffness of the dough as accurately) then put it in the fridge for an hour before baking them up.
- I always take my cookies out about a minute before they “look” done. As they cool on the baking sheet for a couple minutes (to firm up enough to remove to a cooling rack) they will continue to cook and get darker in color. I always transfer them to a cooling rack within 5 minutes of taking them out of the oven.
- When holiday time rolls around my oven is working overtime! To help thing along and to save time I pre-make the cookie dough up to 3 months ahead. Plus my family likes the convenience of throwing a few into the oven whenever they want! So next time you are making cookies, make a double batch. Just use a small
cookie scoop to ball them out, line them all up on a cookie sheet real close (so you can fit more), and place them into the freezer. As soon as they are frozen you can then take them off the cookie sheet and place them into a freezer safe bag or container. They can go straight from freezer into the oven!
- If you prefer to make cakes, trying using a non-traditional frosting. I find that butter-cream frosting and royal icing (what’s on most store bought cakes) tends to be way too sweet & heavy tasting, basically it over powers the cake itself. For the cakes I make I usually use a frosting that is cream cheese or cool whip/whipped cream based, or a combination of both. These frostings call for a lot less powdered sugar, giving it a more mild and lighter texture, yet still creamy. One of our favorite frostings is simply: 6 oz. of cream cheese (regular or light), 8 oz. of cool whip, 3-4 Tbls of powdered sugar and then whatever extracts, flavorings, or mix-ins you want to use (like nuts or toasted coconut).
- LOTS OF LOVE. That’s my biggest ingredient in everything I make and my husband says you can really taste it, haha. For me baking is not just a fun hobby, but I also find it very relaxing and rewarding… except for when my cookies spread. If you aren’t used to baking, start with something simple. Make sure you have plenty of time, have all of the ingredients BEFORE you start, and that there aren’t too many steps or tricky processes. Drop cookies are always a good place to start!