Cookie questions

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After posting my six tips for a better chocolate chip cookie, I received several questions about cookie making and baking in general. I hope these answers to readers’ questions are helpful.

Q: How long do I have to leave the butter out?

A: Butter should be soft, but still cool to the touch. It’s also a good idea to dice up your butter so it tempers evenly. You can leave a one-pound block of butter to temper on the counter, but even though the outside appears ready, the center could still be cold. If you use this block of butter, you may end up with either lumps of butter in your dough, or your dough will break because of the added mixing that would be required to achieve a lump-free consistency.

Q: Can I substitute some of the A.P. flour with cake flour?

A: That wouldn’t be a good idea. That combination will make your cookie too soft. You won’t have enough gluten to sustain the structure, i.e. flat cookies. That combination is better for oatmeal cookies. If you want to experiment with flour, I would recommend one part bread flour to three parts A.P. flour. This will yield a crispier cookie. If you would like a chewier cookie, you can try equal parts bread & cake flour.

Q: When I reduce the size of my recipe, is says 2 1/4 eggs; how do I get 1/4 of an egg?

A: Whenever you’re trying to factor a recipe up or down, the best thing to do is convert all measurements to weight. Assuming that your base recipe calls for nine eggs, find out how many ounces/grams nine eggs weigh and divide that by four. A rule of thumb is that a large (grade AAA) egg weighs two ounces, and a medium (grade AA) weighs 1.67 ounces. In my experience, this has been generally true, but I would recommend you still weigh your eggs and not assume that all your eggs are two ounces just because it says so on the carton.

As for how do you get a 1/4 of an egg, what I do is crack the egg into a container, break the yolk and mix up the egg as if you are going to scramble it. Weigh the egg, and then divide that by four. You can then pour whatever that amount is in with the rest of your eggs.

Q: How do I avoid having lumps of butter in my dough?

A: The key is properly tempering your butter. As I mentioned earlier, the butter should be soft, but still cool to the touch. I realize that this can be a precarious step because if you wait too long, the butter could be too warm and you’ll risk breaking your dough. So here’s an alternative mixing method that will deliver the desired result.

Instead of using a standard creaming method, use a cut-in process similar to that used for making pie dough. Scale all of your dry ingredients into your mixing bowl, (flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking soda). Dice cold butter into small 1/4 inch cubes and let temper for five minutes. Add the butter to the dry ingredients and mix on low until you have a loose struesel in the bowl (see photo). Add your eggs and proceed as usual. When you are done, you should have a lumpless cookie dough.

Q: Do I have to rest the whole batch of dough?

A: Yes, rest the entire batch. You may scoop your dough after you make it. In fact, I would recommend it. A properly made dough should be cold enough that it’s not tacky, but warm enough so that it’s easily scoopable. If you were to rest your dough as a giant lump in a bowl, it would be very difficult to scoop after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. However, this again is up to personal preference. No matter how you choose to rest your dough (scooped or not scooped), the point is that you should allow the dough to rest overnight before baking.

Q: How do I know how far apart to space out cookie dough on baking sheets?

A: Portion size depends on how big you want your cookies. The bigger the cookie, the lower your oven temp, and the longer the cooking time will be. I find that 325º F is the ideal temperature for baking cookies. As for how many cookies you can fit on a baking sheet, I use the height-to-spread ratio. Assuming your dough has not been overmixed, the height of your dough will equal the amount of spread. So, if your scoop of dough is two inches tall, then the cookie will add two inches to its diameter as it bakes. By using this formula, you now know that your cookies have to be at least two inches apart. Once again, this is assuming you didn’t overmix your dough.