Whether baking for your child’s Valentine’s Day party or your sweetheart, use these seven tips to produce the perfect batch.
A perfectly baked cookie can delight people of all ages. Yes, even gluten-free cookies. While recipes vary depending on the type of dough, flour and other ingredients, using the best-quality ingredients is the first step in creating a little piece of heaven. Here are seven tips for getting the most out of your cookies.
- Margarine. Table butter contains added salt for flavor, but there’s no need to use it in baking. Even unsalted butter generally contains the most fat and excessive sodium that can intensify during baking, making the cookies too salty. Opt for the unsalted variety of a vegetable oil-based margarine. What about using one of those butter alternatives commonly known as spreads? I advise against it as they contain a lot of water and are truly intended to spread on your toast, etc.
- Sweeteners. Generally, all sweeteners in cookies act as a liquefier, meaning they melt upon exposure to heat during baking. This helps to promote some of the horizontal spread seen in many cookies. Special cookies such as macarons, some varieties of short bread and certain types of ‘spritz” cookies can call for a drier sweetener, such as a powdered sugar, because it liquefies at a lesser rate. This helps guarantee the greater height typically desired in such cookies. Generally, the coarser the sweetener, the more spread produced, which is why both white granulated and brown sugars are commonly preferred. If considering replacing sugar with an alternative sweetener, like an intense sweetener or a natural sugar replacer, go easy at first. Many of these sweeteners will not liquefy the way sugar does, so it’s best to keep at least half of the original amount of sugar in the recipe.
- Eggs and egg whites. Except for some shortbread doughs, eggs and egg whites are the primary ‘wet’ ingredients in cookie recipes. Whole eggs are added after the sweeteners and fat have been creamed together. Egg whites are more of a primary binder and can be added after being whipped to help keep the cookie very light, like a macaron or meringue cookie. The egg product should be close to room temperature when being added to the recipe. Lastly, if the gluten-free flour blend you use produces an overly crumbly cookie or one with too much spread, I have found a solution. Replace each whole egg in the recipe with two egg whites. Experiment first by replacing up to half the number of whole eggs with whites. The creamed sugar and fat mixture may separate without the inclusion of egg yolks, but the whites will add extra protein and improve the structure and chewiness of the cookie.
- Flour blends. The big question is, which variety of gluten-free flour should you use? I find that experimentation is the key. The type of cookie, including the desired spread, texture and chewiness, factors in to your flour selection. One brand of all-purpose flour may work well in one cookie but not at all in another. Be patient and willing to blend your own combinations. If you have at least two different types of flour, experiment with different ratios, starting with 1:1. Then, depending on the results, consider a 1:3 or 2:3 ratio—or, reverse that ratio. Weigh the flour to visualize how it affects the characteristics of the cookie. This way you can truly see and taste the results.
- Inclusions: The fun stuff. You should generally add in your inclusions—such as chocolate chips, dried fruit or candy—last, along with the flour. Do not over mix when adding the inclusions, which can cause ingredient breakage or even bleeding.
- Baking. Yes, baking. Every oven is different. Make sure that yours has an accurate thermostat. Generally, cookies should be baked until they are about 80 percent done. The other 20 percent will occur as the cookies are cooling at room temperature away from any drafts, which can cause cracks.
- The dunk. Finally, make sure you have plenty of your favorite dunking beverage ready. Whether cold milk, hot chocolate, red wine, Irish coffee or another drink all together, no cookie-noshing experience is complete without that perfect complement to your sweet treat.
Richard Coppedge Jr. is an award-winning chef and professor of baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America. He is the author of Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America: 150 Flavorful Recipes from the World’s Premier Culinary College and Baking for Special Diets.