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GUIDE TO PERFECT COOKIES.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

When it comes to cookie-baking, it's the details and simplest things that make the difference, says Alice Medrich, author of ``Cookies and Brownies.'' ``Baking is not as forgiving as general cooking, even when it comes to something as simple as a cookie.'' Here are tips she and other cookie expert shared for the best results.

For cookie success, measure ingredients carefully and use the proper measures (dry measures such as metal or plastic cups ranging from 1/4 to 1 cup for dry ingredients and plastic or glass measures with a pouring spout or lines up the sides for liquid ingredients). Heap and sweep the flour as follows. Scoop the flour (use bleached all-purpose) into a measure without sifting or tapping until it is heaped above the rim. Do not shake or pack into cup. Level with a straight-edged knife or spatula by sweeping across the cup. Measure liquid ingredients into a cup placed on a counter, not up in the air, and lower your head to read the measurement at eye level.

Use proper mixing and handling techniques to yield tender cookies. Overmixing and too much flour will cause tough cookies. For most recipes, minimal mixing is the key. Medrich tested the recipes in her book using a bowl and spoon as well as with an electric hand-held mixer. Once the flour is added to the dough, mix only enough to get it well distributed.

``How much and how long the ingredients are mixed has a surprisingly significant affect on the taste and texture of the cookie,'' says Medrich. Although 90 percent of the cookie recipes you see tell cooks to beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, Medrich disagrees. For some recipes the butter and sugar should be beaten until light and fluffy, she says, while for others it should be beaten just until creamy. Medrich's recipes advise cooks when to stop beating. Butter cookies are best when the butter is just softened and beaten by hand or with an electric mixer with the sugar just until smooth and creamy. For sugar cookies, Medrich beats the twosome until light and fluffy.

The consistency of the butter also affects the texture and flavor, she continues. She found melted butter simply mixed with the sugar made the best shortbread, chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies.

Medrich favors parchment paper for any heavy chocolate batters or meringues. Some cookies including chocolate chip, oatmeal and butter cookies tasted better and had delicious caramelized crisp edges when baked directly on the cookie sheet rather than on the parchment. For convenience, foil also can be used to line cookie sheets.

Shiny metal pans are preferred for baking cookies as dark pans absorb heat and cookies may become too browned, tough and hard.

Be sure to preheat the oven which usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes prior to baking cookies. Check the oven temperature with an oven thermometer and have it calibrated if necessary.

For even baking, make all cookies in the same batch the same size, shape and thickness. Use a scoop with a squeeze-release handle (many sizes are available at restaurant supply and cooking stores) for ease in forming equal-size portions of dough.

Use baking times in recipes as guidelines. Check cookies at the minimum time the recipe indicates. Use a timer to avoid guessing. Watch cookies carefully while baking as a minute or two can make a difference in the end results.

Always cool cookie sheets before placing a new batch of raw cookies on them to avoid having dough melt. Otherwise you may end up with misshapen cookies, too much spreading or altered baking times. ``If you have already formed cookies on parchment or foil liners, you can slide the liner onto a hot or warm cookie sheet as long as you place it in the oven immediately,'' advises Medrich.

If baking a single pan of cookies, bake in the center of the oven. If baking two sheets at once, position sheets in upper and lower thirds of oven and reverse, from upper to lower and front to back, halfway through the baking time.

Cool cookies thoroughly before storing or stacking in a closed container.

Any chocolate will do in cookie recipes _ says Medrich, who tested her recipes with affordable grocery store chocolate _ until you start to compare. ``Better chocolate makes better cookies.''

Medrich compared baking cookie doughs just after making, after chilling four hours and after chilling overnight. The dough chilled overnight yielded the cookies with the best texture, flavor and appearance when it came to chocolate chip, butter and oatmeal cookies. Medrich speculates that it's probably because the flavors marry and the flour has a chance to become thoroughly moistened.

Medrich avoids freezing baked cookies. She prefers cookies baked fresh. In a pinch, freeze the dough up to a month before baking.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 19, 1999
Words:810
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