Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tutorial: Baking the Perfect Sugar Cookie

Mmmm, cookies! I love the smell of freshly baked cookies and I’d be willing to bet that you do too. I love all kinds of cookies, sugar cookies being my favorite. Of all the cookies in the world, I think they are the most versatile. They are a blank canvas on which you can create art that can be a masterpiece or the embodiment of simplicity. They fit any and every occasion and can be made as flavorful as you want. So how do we go about creating the perfect sugar cookie? I thought you’d never ask! I’ve made many a batch of sugar cookies and I offer to you the method in which I create my cookies.

You will need:
  • Sugar cookie dough (homemade or storebought)
  • ½ cup each of flour and confectioner’s sugar in a wide shallow dish
  • cookie cutters of your choice
  • dough cutter or thin metal spatula
  • rolling pin
  • cookie sheets
  • parchment paper
  • ¼” thick square cut or flat wooden dowels, minimum 12” long
1. First things first, prepare your work surface. Make sure it’s clean before you sprinkle the sugar and flour mixture. Using half flour and half sugar prevents the cookies from becoming too floury when you knead the dough and keeps them from sticking. Set your tools within reach so that you aren't flouring your entire kitchen looking for them!

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2. Take a ball of dough a little bigger than your fist and flatten it slightly with your hands. Flour the surface liberally and place the dowels on either side of the dough disk. The trick to getting a consistent cookie is to use rolling pin guides. I use balsa wood dowels that are 1/4" thick and flat. You can purchase these bad boys in the model aisle at your local craft store for less than a dollar. Some folks may opt to actually buy those rubber rolling pin bands that serve the same purpose, but note that they do not fit every rolling pin nor are they easy to use IMO.

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3. Now start rolling! The benefit to using the dowels is that you can move them around as needed to keep everything consistent. Make sure that they are never spaced wider than your rolling pin! Remember to dust the dough, your rolling pin, and the work surface as needed.

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4. Once you've rolled out the dough and it's not spreading anymore, you can use your cutters to cut out your cookies. Even if I am making a very specific design, I always keep a small circle or star cutter out (about 1" big) to help me use up the dough. These can also be used as practice cookies when you start decorating or as snacks later on ;o) If you find your cutter sticking, dip it in your flour mixture to help it come off cleanly from the dough.

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5. Use your dough cutter or spatula to lift the cookie up. It's really important that it be as thin a spatula as possible if you aren't using a dough cutter.

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6. When it's time to bake the cookies, bake them about 25F lower than the recipe calls for. Intense heat on a baked good can cause the edges to bake faster than the center, especially with a thick cookie. Lower heat means increased baking time, so cook them about 6-7 minutes, flip the pan around in the oven and then give it another 6-7 minutes. As you can see in the picture below, the cookies have come out with a light golden tinge around the edges. The fish with the darker tail is actually thinner than the rest; this is a good example of why it's really important to use rolling pin guides of some kind so that the cookies are all the same thickness!

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7. Because the cookies will continue to cook on the pan, it's imperative to remove them as soon as possible. I've found that waiting one to two minutes allows the cookie to "set up" before I move them to a cooling rack. Allow the cookies to cool completely before you decorate.

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And voila! There you have it, the perfect cookie. Soft yet firm, crisp but not too crunchy, light and golden! So to sum it all up:
  • work in small batches for better control
  • 1:1 flour and confectioner's sugar for dusting
  • use guides to create a consistent thickness
  • bake it low and slow
I'll post the companion decorating tutorial soon so check back often!

Happy Baking!
Kelly

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