Saturday, April 27, 2013

Cookie Baking Tips

Cream Cheese Chocolate Chunk Cookies w/ Pecans (scroll down for recipe)

Today I'm baking up some Really Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Pecans. The cream cheese kind. Mmmm....
I've already posted the recipe for these cookies sans pecans, so I'll post it again below with the pecans. I thought, though, that today was also a good day to type out some of the truths about cookie making that I've discovered through the years--some through trial and error, some through my avid Food Network viewing, and some through other sources I can't recall. I'll break it down into "Basics" and "My Preferences," just so the difference is clear.

Basics (not exhaustive and in no particular order):
  • Follow the recipe--winging it in baking is never a good idea.
  • Use all purpose flour, unless otherwise specified.
  • Use a whisk to mix the dry ingredients together when you have to mix them.
  • The higher the quality the ingredients, the better the product.
  • When the recipe calls for butter to be soft, make sure it's soft--an hour on the counter is best; next best is microwaving a stick of butter at 50% power for about 20 seconds.
  • Using all butter creates a flatter, crisper cookie.
  • Using all vegetable shortening creates a taller, more tender cookie.
  • Using a mix of butter and shortening produces crisp, medium-height, crisp-edged, sort of chewy cookies.
  • Using about half cream cheese and half butter creates slightly dense, chewy, stay-fresh-longer cookies.
  • After the flour is added, only mix until combined--over mixing can mess up your cookies.
  • Refrigerating the dough usually helps make cookies chewier and less flat.
  • For fresh baked cookies any time, freeze cookie dough in balls--dough for chocolate chip cookies, dark chocolate cookies, and snickerdoodles freeze well, but peanut butter cookies and oatmeal cookies don't do as well after freezing. Those cookies never quite flatten out enough after freezing.
  • You can also keep dough refrigerated in an airtight container for about a week and bake a few at a time. Again, if you won't be baking it all within the week, think about freezing it in balls.
  • To freeze dough, after making dough, scoop onto wax paper lined baking sheets, freeze, and the place balls in zip top baggies and store in the freezer.
  • If you use a cookie scoop with a spring action, avoid scooping super hard dough--I've messed up too many spring actions trying to unmold hard cookie dough.
  • King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour is my flour of choice.
  • I like C & H Sugars (white and brown), and Dove Dark Chocolate, even though I have to unwrap them every time I use them.
  • A standing mixer makes life so much easier.
  • Use parchment paper for easy cleanup and better browning on the bottoms of cookies.
  • If you're going to use nuts, toast them in the oven on a baking sheet at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10-15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes and making sure to keep an eye on them so they don't scorch--this adds another dimension to the flavor.
  • I use Airbake pans--my cookie bottoms never burn and when you use this pan that only has a rim on one of the four sides, you can easily slide the cookies on the parchment paper onto the cooling rack to immediately stop the cooking. When you leave the cookies on the hot pan, they continue to bake a little after they're out of the oven. 
  • As mentioned above, I usually freeze my chocolate chunk/chip cookie dough in balls. I'm a cookie snob and a freshness snob. Freezing the dough ensures that the cookies I serve and eat are super fresh. I generally only bake what can/will be eaten within 24 hours. Cookies made with cream cheese stay fresh longer for some reason, and cookies that don't have any egg (like shortbread and Swedish Cream Cookies) last a while longer as well. And when I say "a while" I mean I'll keep them around three days before tossing the leftovers. I know, I know--a lot of you out there will think I'm a freak. I'm fine with that. I don't want to waste calories on stale cookies. Ever.
I know there are probably more tips in my head, and I'm certain there are more out there in the world. Please leave a comment if you have some tips of your own so that the rest of us can benefit from your knowledge and experience. Thanks for reading!

Cream Cheese Chocolate Chunk Cookies w/ Pecans
(pictured above)
       --adapted from For Me-For You who in a roundabout way got it from Jacques Torres

  • 2 cups minus 2 Tbsp. cake flour 
  • 1 2/3 cups bread flour (I used King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour)
  • 1 ¼ tsp. baking soda

  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder

  • 1 ½ tsp. coarse salt, such as kosher

  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 ¼ cups packed light brown sugar

  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp.  granulated sugar

  • 2 large eggs
 (room temperature)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 20 oz. good quality semi sweet chocolate chips/chunks/discs (I used two 9.5 oz bags of Dove Dark Chocolate Promises, unwrapped an chopped into large chunks.)
  • 2 cups toasted pecans, chopped
Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Put dry ingredients through a sieve to sift them together. Set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter, cream cheese, and sugars until very light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low/stir; then add dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and pecans, and mix briefly to incorporate. Place in an airtight plastic container, and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Once chilled, you can bake or scoop dough balls to freeze for later baking.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator, and allow it to soften slightly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.
Now here is where you have to decide what size to make the cookies (unless you made the balls earlier for freezing). I used a medium sized Pampered Chef cookie scoop, which is probably about 3 tablespoons. Bigger is probably better with these cookies. (For Me-For You used a 1/3 measuring cup for hers.) Place scoops onto parchment lined cookie sheets and leave about 2 inches between cookies. Bake cookies for 12-14 minutes or until puffed and browned at the edges. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies onto the rack to cool a bit more. 
Enjoy with a tall glass of cold milk. Mmmm...

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

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