Gardenias. Just-cut grass. Wood smoke on a crisp morning. Jasmine. Freshly baked bread. And cookies hot out of the oven.
Those are just a few of my favorite scents.
Fortunately, the “cookies hot out of the oven” part is doable whenever you get a craving, and there’s no better time than the present. If the winter season itself doesn’t inspire you to get in the kitchen and whip up a few batches of homemade cookies, these tips and recipes should do the trick.
And if time or inspiration are lacking, we’ve rounded up some great local and online resources where you can order delicious cookies already made. (It’s up to you whether or not you tell your guests where they came from.
Ready, set, let’s get baking!
Bake Like The Pros
For expert tips, we turned to Miriam Pascal of overtimecook.com. The popular food blogger and author of the recently released Something Sweet: Desserts, Baked Goods, and Treats for Every Occasion, Miriam is known as the “Queen of Kosher Desserts.” (Look for more on Miriam and her cookbook in our February 2016 issue!)
“One of the most important kitchen tools you can use is a cookie scoop,” says Miriam. “Not only does it ensure that your cookies all look uniform, but it also ensures that they are all the same size, which leads to even baking. If you buy only one, medium is the size to get.”
Use that cookie scoop to make it easy to prepare fresh-from-the-oven cookies any time. Miriam recommends scooping cookie dough into balls and freezing them on a tray. Once frozen, just put them in a Ziploc bag and keep in the freezer until you’re ready to bake. Then take the balls of dough straight from the freezer, place them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake according to directions.
“They will need to bake a couple of minutes longer than non-frozen dough,” adds Miriam.
Speaking of baking time, a common mistake is overbaking cookies.
“Many cookies, such as drop cookies, firm up as they cool,” she says. “They may look too soft at the end of the stated baking time, but don’t be tempted to bake your cookies longer, as that will ruin their texture.”
Savvy bakers use cooling racks. Why?
“They allow air to circulate around the bottoms of the cookies, preventing condensation that can lead to slightly soggy cookies,” Miriam explains.
The Perfect Pans
If your cookie sheetsare questionable, you won’t get reliable baking results. Whether you prefer non-stick, aluminum or insulated aluminum, start with a durable, well-made cookie pan/sheet. Before using and after each use, wash pan(s) in warm, soapy water and towel dry. Dark cookie sheets will bake darker than aluminum, so turn your oven down 25 degrees from what the recipe says.
Prepare the pan according to each specific cookie recipe. If the directions call for “greasing” the pan, you’ll get the best results using solid vegetable shortening applied with a pastry brush or paper towel or a non-stick spray. Don’t use butter, margarine or liquid vegetable oil. Another option is to use parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
To prevent cookies from spreading, only grease the pan when the recipe recommends. Cool pans between baking. On warm/humid days, place cookies on the sheet and chill a few minutes before baking.
Q:Can all types of cookie dough be frozen?
A: Yes. The dough should be wrapped in plastic and placed in a resealable bag. Dough can be kept for about two months. Meringue cookies and cookies that are iced tend not to freeze well.
Q: What is the difference between light and dark brown sugar? Does one make chewy cookies?
A: Light brown sugar has less molasses content than dark brown sugar. Light brown sugar will make a lighter brown cookie as opposed to a darker color. They will both make chewy cookies.
Q: I have trouble using cookie cutters because the dough usually stays in the cutter. What am I doing wrong?
A: Be sure to dip the cutter each time in flour before use. Jiggling or slightly shaking the cutter before you lift it will help the dough release from the cutter.
Q:Why do my cookies stick?
A: Let cookies stand one to two minutes after removing from oven or as directed in recipe. As cookies continue to cool, they will become firm enough to remove from pan. Transfer to cooling rack.
Q:Does re-rolling cookie dough scraps make cookies less tender?
A: It’s OK to re-roll one time. Don’t re-roll more than once.
Q: When I make cookies with a cookie cutter, I roll the dough out on my floured counter. Sometimes the cookies get distorted when I transfer them to a cookie sheet. Is there a way to avoid this?
A: Try rolling the dough itself out on the cookie sheet, then cutting the cookies and removing the excess dough.
Q: Is it really that bad for you to eat the raw cookie dough when baking?
A: We never recommend eating raw cookie dough because of the potential for salmonella ingestion.
Source: (c) 2015 Wilton Industries, Inc. wilton.com, used with permission
Just Bag It
When decorating cookies with royal icing, you can use a reusable featherweight decorating bag or, for less cleanup, a disposable decorating bag. Using a decorating bag and a two-part device known as a “coupler” is easy. It provides much more control when decorating and allows you to change decorating tips without changing bags.
Ooey Gooey Cookie Recipes
Imitate the chefs you see on television: Measure and prepare your ingredients beforehand. If the recipe calls for “room temperature” butter, eggs, etc., take these ingredients out of the refrigerator earlier so they aren’t too cold.
(Makes about 31/2 dozen)
1 cup coarse ladyfinger crumbs
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon brewed coffee (or 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water)
3/4 cup oil
4 ounces cream cheese (or soy cream cheese)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup espresso or strong coffee*
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
* You can use 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water instead of espresso.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine ladyfinger crumbs, brown sugar and coffee in small bowl. Stir until combined. Mixture should have the texture of damp sand. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, on medium speed, beat together oil, cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add espresso, egg, baking soda, salt and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy. Reduce mixer speed to low; add flour 1 cup at a time, beating after each addition until combined. Use a medium cookie scoop (or heaping tablespoon) to portion out dough. Roll into balls; then roll in prepared ladyfinger crumbs until fully coated. Place onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10-11 minutes, until cookies are set.
Source: Something Sweet by Miriam Pascal, ©2015 Mesorah Publications, Ltd., used with permission.
Roll-Out Butter Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen 3-inch cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
11/2 cups granulated sugar
11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon no-color almond extract
23/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and extracts. Mix flour, baking powder and salt; add to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Do not chill dough. Divide dough into two balls. On floured surface, roll each ball into a circle approximately 12 inches in diameter by 1/8-inch thick. Dip cookie cutter in flour before each use. Bake cookies on ungreased cookie sheet 8-11 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned.
(Makes about 3 cups of icing for decorating roll-out cookies)
3 tablespoons meringue powder
4 cups (about 1 lb) confectioners’ sugar
5 tablespoons warm water
Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer). NOTE: Keep all utensils completely grease-free for proper icing consistency.
*For stiffer icing, or when using large countertop mixer, use 1 tablespoon less water.
Thinned Royal Icing:To thin for pouring, add 1 teaspoon water per cup of royal icing. Use grease-free spoon or spatula to stir slowly. Add 1/2 teaspoon water at a time until you reach proper consistency.
To watch a helpful video on how to make royal icing, do a quick search on YouTube at youtube.com.
Amaretto Flourless Chocolate Bars
(Makes about 2 dozen)
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped and divided
12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur, divided
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4cup whole almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
Non-stick vegetable pan spray
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 8-inch square pan with foil, letting sides hang over edges of pan. Prepare with vegetable pan spray. In large metal or heat-resistant glass bowl, combine 8 ounces chopped chocolate, butter, sugar and cocoa powder. Place over pot of boiling water on low heat. Stir constantly until mixture is smooth and evenly melted. Remove from heat; stir in 1/4 cup amaretto. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 27-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of brownie comes out nearly clean (a crumb or two is OK). Cool in pan on cooling grid 30 minutes. Refrigerate at least 4 hours. For ganache topping, combine remaining 4 ounces chopped chocolate and cream in medium microwave-safe container. Microwave at half (50%) power 1 minute; stir. Microwave on 50% power in 30-second intervals, stirring between each, until chocolate is almost melted. Stir thoroughly until mixture is smooth. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons amaretto. Lift brownie from pan using foil; remove foil and place brownie on serving plate. Pour ganache over brownie top. Sprinkle with chopped almonds. Refrigerate until set or ready to serve. Cut.
Cinnamon Roll Cookies
In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. In large bowl, beat butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Stir in flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time, blending well after each addition. Dough will be soft and slightly elastic. Form dough into 2 squares, about 1-inch thick. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours. For filling, stir together butter, sugar and cinnamon in small bowl until well combined. On floured surface, roll one square into a 12×9-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick (leave remaining square in refrigerator until ready to use). Using half of filling mixture, spread thin layer, completely covering dough. Starting at long end, roll dough tightly into a spiral. Wrap with plastic wrap, and freeze 30 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare cookie pans with parchment paper. Cut dough logs into 1/4-inch slices. Place on prepared cookie pans. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges of cookies are pale golden brown. Cool cookies on pan on cooling grid 5 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on grid.
Chewy Almond Cookies
Makes about 11/2 dozen
8 ounces almond paste
1/2cup granulated sugar
1 egg white
1/2teaspoon Wilton pure vanilla extract
10 Maraschino cherries, halved (optional)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In large bowl, break almond paste into pieces. Add sugar and beat with electric mixer on low speed until the mixture is a sandy texture. Add egg white; beat until mixture is very smooth. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons onto lined baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. With index finger, make a slight indentation in the center of each dough round. If desired, press a cherry half into each indentation. Press sliced almonds into the dough around the edges. Bake 22-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely on baking sheets or wire racks. Peel cookies off parchment paper when completely cool. Store in airtight containers.
Spiced Chocolate Roll-out Cookies
Makes about 2 – 21/2 dozen
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Wilton pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 3 squares (3 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
Preheat oven to 375°F. In medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg. In large bowl, beat together butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Blend in chocolate. Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture, beating until smooth. Form dough into a disc, cover and chill until firm, about one hour. Roll dough approximately 1/8-inch thick. Dip cutters in flour; cut and transfer cookies to cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes. Cool cookies completely on pan. If desired, decorate with icing following design in photo.
All recipes except Tiramisu Cookies courtesy (c) 2015 Wilton Industries, Inc., wilton.com, used with permission
No Time To Bake?
Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered! Check out the following local and national online sources for tasty, freshly baked cookies.
Stella’s: The Modern Pantry
A Taste of Everywhere
Paradise Bakery & Cafe
Sprinkles by Terri
Sidewalk Cookie & Cake Company
Great American Cookies