Cookie

Dorie Greenspan's Essential Tools (and Tips!) for Baking Cookies

December  3, 2014

As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities -- but we also have to rely on our tools. Which is why we're asking the experts about the essential tools we need to make our favorite foods attainable in our own kitchens.

Today: Dorie Greenspan -- fount of cookie knowledge and author of many cookbooks including the recent Baking Chez Moi -- is sharing the tips and tools you need to bake cookies of all sorts this holiday season. 

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There are lots of reasons to dub December "the merriest month," but for me and so many other home bakers, the most delicious reason is cookie-making and all the gifting, stocking-stuffing, and swapping that goes with it. And that's not to mention all of the gear -- the tools that help us turn out rounds, rings, and roly-poly gingerbread folk. Buy the best tools you can and, with few exceptions, you'll never have to buy them again. I speak from experience, since I've still got my grandmother's rolling pin and the cooling racks I bought when I got married. 

But before you pull out the gear, here are a few general cookie-baking tips to get you through this sweet season: 

  1. Unless instructed otherwise, don't beat the butter, sugar and eggs until fluffy -- all the air you beat into the dough will make the cookies rise and then sink in the oven.
  2. Once the flour's in, go easy with the beating.
  3. Give rolled-out dough a thorough chilling before cutting. And, if you've got time, chill the cut-outs while you preheat the oven.
  4. If you're baking more than one sheet of dough at a time, rotate the sheets front to back and top to bottom midway through the bake.
  5. Make sure to cool the baking sheets between batches.
  6. Wait until cookies reach room temperature before storing them.
  7. Never store soft cookies and crunchy cookies together -- do that and they'll all go soft.

Now, head for the oven with these basic tools -- they're what you'll need to get started and to keep you baking cookies through the hols and the years to come.

1. Spatula
No kitchen, especially a cookie kitchen, should be without a sturdy spatula. Even if you make your dough in a heavy-duty mixer, you need a spatula to scrape down the bowl, to get the dough out of the bowl, and, if you're making delicate doughs, to fold in ingredients, to smooth the tops of brownies and bar cookies, and to lick. A silicone spatula is the most practical, and one that's molded in a single piece and is flexible but not floppy is the best. When you find a spatula you like, buy a couple of them -- a kitchen can never have too many.

2. Oven thermometer
Of course you need an oven thermometer no matter what kind of baking you're doing, but you really need it when you're baking cookies. Because most cookies bake for only a short time, it's important that the oven be at the prescribed temperature when you slide the baking sheets in. And to make certain that the oven will stay at temperature for a while, I like to extend the preheat period for 10 to 20 minutes after the indicator light says you're good to go. Doing this ensures that the oven is truly at temperature and that it won't dip too dramatically the instant you open the oven door.

More: Even if you can't foster world peace, you can still make Pierre Hermé & Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies

  

3. Baking sheets
Although I was taught that cookies should be baked on a "cookie" sheet -- a pan with at least one rimless side -- I prefer to use rimmed baking sheets. Actually, they're what you'll find in most bakeries and pâtisseries. Look for sturdy pans. Since you'll also use them for roasting vegetables and maybe even birds, you want pans that won't buckle under high heat or go wonky when the weight is heavy. Shiny pans are better than dark ones and plain are better than nonstick -- you want to bake the cookies to the right shade of golden brown and having lighter-hued pans helps the cookies not to color too deeply before they're baked through. Finally, stay away from insulated pans. They're great as liners for long-baking pound cakes, but not good for cookies that are in the oven for a short time. True, you won't burn your cookies with an insulated pan, but you won't get good color either. And everything that makes baking sheets good goes for square and rectangular brownie and bar-cookie pans, too.

4. Parchment paper and silicone baking mats
Lining a baking sheet with either parchment or a silicone baking mat means that clean-up will be a breeze. It also means that you won't have the messy job of buttering pans. Silicone mats are expensive, but unless you decide to go into the cookie biz, you'll have them forever. Even if you decide on silicone, you should have parchment in the house -- it's the best for sandwiching dough to be rolled out. 

5. Rolling pin.
Save the big heavy rolling pin for bread dough and anything that fights back, and roll cookie dough with an elegant French pin, a slender pin sans handles. (My everyday pin is this one.) Cookie dough -- and pie and tart dough, too -- should be rolled with a light touch and the French pin will give you that. It will also give you control. Because the pin and the pressure you put on it are guided by your hands -- and you can feel what you're doing -- driving a French pin is like steering a well-tuned sports car. (Extend the analogy, and the bruiser pin becomes a tractor-trailer, which is just what you want for the long haul that is bread.) My preference is to roll dough as soon as it's mixed, when it's at its most malleable. Put the dough between sheets of parchment paper, roll to the thickness you want (no need to flour the dough), slide the sandwiched dough onto a baking sheet, and then chill or freeze the dough until you're ready to cut and bake it. 

    

6. Cookie cutters
Perhaps you're steelier willed than I am, but I've been seduced by so many cookie cutters in my life that you'd think I'd know better. I fall for their cute shapes and don't bother to give them the all-important squeeze test, the one that would tell me ahead of time that they're flimsy and will lose their shape three star-bearing angels in. Cookie cutters need to be strong and their edges need to be sharp enough to give you a clean cut. In addition to everything seasonal, if you're a serial cookie-maker, you should have a box of graduated round cutters and perhaps a box of scalloped-edged ones too. And, while you're shopping, think about getting a fluted ravioli cutter -- the rick-rack edge makes adorable cookies and crackers. I like these round and fluted cutters from Matfer.

7. Cookie scoops
Drop cookies are the easiest to make and can be portioned out with a spoon. But drop them with a cookie scoop and you'll get cookies that are all the same size -- they'll bake more evenly and there'll be no fighting over who gets the bigger one. And scooped cookies look better. I keep a stash of scoops at the ready in small, medium, and large sizes and use them for lots of different kinds of cookies, from traditional chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, to coconut macaroons and thumbprints. I even use the scoops to fill muffin tins and shape cream puffs. My favorite scoops are made by OXO.

8. Cooling racks
For all the pleasure there is in nabbing a warm cookie, the fact is that most cookies don't come into their own until they reach room temperature. And in order for them to reach room temperature without developing the dreaded soggy-bottom, they should be cooled on racks that raise them above the counter and allow air to circulate all around them. Buy good racks -- and you should buy at least a couple -- and you'll never have to replace them. And if you're a serious cookie-baker, go big! It's great to have a rack that will hold a full batch or two of your faves.

  

9. Cookie plate 
Okay, you don't really need a beautiful plate or a cake stand to serve your cookies, but it's awfully nice to have something pretty to offer your little beauties on. While chippers and saucer-size cookies are great in baskets, bowls, or cookie jars, if you've fussed over cut-out cookies, treat them -- and yourself -- to something lovely. I'm particularly fond of serving cookies on a stand -- it gives them the lift they deserve and puts them, quite literally, on equal footing with show-offy cakes.

What are your favorite tricks for making holiday cookies? Share with us in the comments below!

14 Comments

Kiffer W. February 16, 2018
these tips are great and nice! thanks for your tips! its very useful. I also want to write an article about baking tools. You can check my articles here; http://wrinkled.net/
 
Rachel December 9, 2014
A tip I've learned (especially helpful if the dough is fragile and you are getting help from little hands) is to roll the dough out right on the silicon mat, let kids fit all the cookie cutters close together on the cookie sheet; let them sprinkle pinches of sugar on top of each cookie with the cutter still in place as the guide; then put the whole thing in the freezer for a few minutes; then it is easy to remove the extra dough and space the cookies out once the dough becomes stiff. Kids always want to help make cookies and this can be quite challenging unless you take friendly structural measures to make it a fun experience.
 
Rachel December 9, 2014
"More: Even if you can't foster world peace, you can still make Pierre Hermé & Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies."<br />Sad to read this written this way. I wish you hadn't said it that way. The world's children demand more! Every one can foster peace it is just that we may not be able to achieve peace on our own. How about taking a plate of peace cookies to someone or some place to foster peace? Or organizing a bake sale to benefit an organization working for peace? So many options, as many as good cookie recipes!!!
 
AntoniaJames December 9, 2014
Hear, hear! Everyone can do something. I support programs focused on economic justice through micro-development globally, including providing clean water, and support local programs for the hungry/malnourished here. Thank you, Rachel. ;o)
 
Annie S. December 3, 2014
I totally agree with Antonia about refrigerating chocolate chip cookie dough. My cc cookies took a big step up after I inadvertently left them in the fridge for a couple of days!
 
AntoniaJames December 3, 2014
I figured it out via the Christmas cookie route. I always have to squeeze my holiday baking around my busy work schedule (even more challenging in December due to year-end deals that are on compressed timetables), so invariably I make dough over the course of two or three evenings and refrigerate it for at least a few days before rolling and baking. Occasionally I'd bake a sheet or two on the same evening, I realized early on that the cookies rolled/shaped later tasted much better. I started making my other cookie doughs ahead and confirmed that it makes such a difference, especially in cookies with brown sugar in the dough. ;o)
 
Ellie B. December 3, 2014
I'll take a beautiful cookie plate, thank you! :D And oh my goodness do I love gleaning knowledge for the kitchen! I'm kind of in awe of the first tip, although now that I think about it it really makes sense. I think I messed up with that a few times in the past, and thus, ended up with pillowy cookies. They were still delicious!
 
Droplet December 3, 2014
Taste at least one cookie from every baking sheet coming out of the oven--quality control is important :)
 
AntoniaJames December 3, 2014
Hear, hear! (Droplet, you make me laugh.) ;o)
 
Sabrina R. December 3, 2014
Where can I get those letter shaped cookie cutters?
 
Lindsay-Jean H. December 3, 2014
Right here! https://food52.com/provisions/products/560-alphabet-cookie-cutter-set
 
AntoniaJames December 3, 2014
Refrigerate the dough for longer than the recommended time (including doughs where chilling isn't necessary), i.e., for 2 or 3 days, to let the flavors develop. ;o)
 
Ellie B. December 3, 2014
whoa, 2 or 3 days? So even the good ol' classics like chocolate chip?
 
AntoniaJames December 3, 2014
Yes! Especially chocolate chip! The dark brown sugar flavors in particular deepen, giving toffee notes to your cookies. So, so much better. ;o)