9 Secrets for Baking the Best Cookies That Only Pastry Chefs Know
From the ooey-gooey richness of a chocolate chip cookie, to the sweet bite of a sugar cookie, to the crunch of gingerbread, cookies are an extremely versatile dessert. No matter what kind is your favorite, all cookies go through a similar process when they're being made—a dough has to be formed, rolled out, and then baked in the oven. It's in that process that either crucial mistakes will be made that alter the outcome of your cookies, or the dough will become the perfect batch of freshly-made cookies.
While there's rarely a bad cookie, some cookies are definitely better than others. Especially when they're made by trained pastry chefs, who have certainly developed a few tricks and secrets of their own over their years of professionally making cookies.
Here are nine secrets to help you make your best batch of cookies ever, straight from pastry chefs. Then, for more cooking tips, check out 9 Secrets for Cooking the Best Steak That Only Chefs Know.
Cream butter and sugar together.
Nothing is worse than taking your cookies out of the oven and finding out that it's the wrong texture or shape, especially if they're too flat, gritty, or worst of all, too hard. The best way to avoid this is by creaming together your butter and sugar before it's mixed with any other ingredients.
"Always cream your butter and sugar together to achieve the fluffiest mixture possible," says Aisha Momaney, the pastry chef at 101 Hospitality. "The extended amount of creaming time here allows the butter to melt the sugar crystals, which will help your cookie batter texture to be creamy and not gritty with granulated sugar."
Mix up your sugars.
Maybe your recipe just says to add sugar, but one of the secrets to making the most delicious batch of cookies ever is to mix it up when it comes to the sugars you use. Using both granulated sugar and brown sugar will help the cookies to be the perfect combination of both crispy and chewy.
"Always start with a blend of sugars," Momaney says. "I specifically like granulated and brown sugars. This will always make the end result texture of your cookie better. The ideal cookie has a crispy outside and is chewy inside. Granulated sugar helps to contribute to the exterior crispiness of the cookie whereas the molasses in brown sugar will help keep the inside chewy."
Chill the batter.
The best tasting cookies are ones that are warm from being taken out of the oven, but before they're perfectly heated, they've got to get cold. Putting finished cookie dough in the refrigerator to chill will help the cookie to bake evenly.
"Putting a freshly made dough in the oven will result in a cookie that spreads before it bakes," says pastry chef Tiffany Lewis, the owner of Cookies with Tiffany. "Let it chill after scooping, then bake. That way, the vanilla and butter fully hydrate the dry ingredients and the cookie will bake evenly."
Sift the dry ingredients.
One of the biggest mistakes that can happen when making cookies is winding up with lumpy dough, which can sometimes be tricky to avoid. It's easy to wind up with a few lumps in your dry ingredients, especially if you're in a humid location, as products such as baking soda and baking powder can lump together easily. To avoid this, run all of the dry ingredients for your batter through a sifter to ensure you have a perfectly fine dry mix.
"By sifting your flour with any other dry goods like baking soda, spices, or baking powder, you'll make sure the ingredients are evenly incorporated and that no pockets remain," Lewis says. "This ensures that each and every cookie bakes perfectly."
Ingredients should be room temperature.
A cookie recipe typically calls for a lot of different ingredients, and a lot of those ingredients will be stored in separate parts of your kitchen. Foods like eggs, butter, and other dairy products will be found in the refrigerator, while sugars and dry ingredients, which are typically stored in pantries or on countertops, will already be at room temperature. It's important to let all of your ingredients warm up to just about room temperature before mixing them together in a batter because it assists with incorporating and mixing the ingredients.
"Everything should be at room temperature," Lewis says. "This includes your butter, eggs, and any add-ins that you may be using. That way, everything will come together cohesively, creating a perfectly mixed dough."
Don't forget about salt and butter.
When you're putting together a batch of cookie dough, it might seem like flour or sugar would be the most important ingredient, but underdog ingredients like butter and salt are what really help the cookies come together.
"The salt enhances the flavors and balances the sugar on your tongue for that perfect bite," says Kristen Groth, a pastry chef at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. "Butter adds structure and tenderness to your cookie. For example, too much butter can make cookies that spread too wide. But not having enough butter can create dry cookies that aren't pleasant to eat. Butterfat also adds richness, and that is critical for a perfect cookie texture."
Weigh your ingredients.
When it comes to doling out ingredients to make the cookie batter, you're probably using teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups because that's how recipes are most often written. But pastry chefs do it a bit differently. Instead of measuring out ingredients with these tools, pastry chefs weigh their ingredients, as the measuring cups can sometimes be subjective.
"Recipes that most home bakers use are in cups and teaspoons," says Leen Nunn, a pastry chef at OMNI PGA Frisco Resort. "However, this is not the way for pastry chefs. Pastry chefs use scales to measure out each ingredient because everyone measures out one cup of brown sugar differently."
Add in vanilla sugar.
A lot of the flavor in cookies comes from the addition of sugar (or sugars), but sometimes using normal granulated sugar, or brown sugar, just isn't enough. Claudia Martinez, the executive pastry chef at Miller Union in Atlanta, recommends adding more flavor into the cookie by making vanilla sugar.
"Using vanilla sugar instead of sugar for the dough adds a more concentrated flavor," Martinez says. "Let some used empty vanilla beans sit in sugar for a few days to make vanilla sugar."
Don't over-mix the dough.
Once you've combined all of your ingredients, it can be exciting to see it come together in a dough. In an effort to avoid clumps and have a perfectly smooth dough, people sometimes mix it too much. It might not seem like that would result in any big problems, just an evenly-mixed dough, but whipping too much air into the dough by over-mixing could result in cookies that collapse.
"Don't over-mix the cookie dough," says pastry chef Kareem Queeman of Washington, D.C.'s Mr. Bake Sweets. "Cream the butter and sugar for only as long as you need to (a recipe usually specifies the amount of time), and don't begin beating the ingredients then leave the room with the mixer running. Whipping too much air into the dough will cause your cookies to collapse as they bake."
Now that you have these expert-recommended tips, you can go into your baking process with confidence! Enjoy making your favorite recipe and adding in these new tips, or trying a brand new recipe for the first time. Either way, your loved ones will be impressed with your new baking skills.