Blog Cookie Construction
One of the nicest perks of my job is hearing from customers; I've gotten some lovely letters and phone calls over the years from people who have enjoyed using our cookie cutters. Once in a great while, though, I hear from a not-so-happy customer. I remember a phone call from a woman who was upset because she made pig cookies for her son's class and they didn't turn out looking anything like pigs. I asked her if she had used the recipe that came with the cookie cutter, and she said no, she had bought a tube of dough at the supermarket. Ah, mystery solved. Those store-bought doughs generally contain leaveners like baking powder, which make cookies puff up and lose their shape. Convenience foods can be wonderful, but sometimes a shortcut is actually a wrong turn.
It's true that "from-scratch" baking takes a little more time, and I know that even people who love to bake are sometimes intimidated by anything involving a rolling pin. But making your own rolled cookies is pretty simple if you follow a few basic rules. Here are some pointers I've picked up over the years.
First, measure carefully. The proportions of the ingredients in rolled cookies are important: too much butter makes the dough soft and greasy, too much flour makes it tough, and too much sugar makes cookies that spread in the oven. Our basic rolled cookie recipe has just the right amount of these ingredients to make a sturdy but tender dough, so use the exact amounts. Dip a dry measuring cup into the flour and sweep a knife across the top to get rid of the extra.
Temperature is important, too. Before you mix it, the butter should be soft enough so that you can press your finger into it with a little resistance. Letting it soften on the counter is the best way to get it to this state, but really, who thinks ahead to do that? Many of us resort to the microwave, and wind up with puddles. The trick is to use low power, to check the butter frequently, and to flip the sticks over from bottom to top partway through.
Don't skip the step of chilling the dough; cold dough is easier to work with and needs less flour on the counter to keep it from sticking. Especially in warmer weather, it's helpful to divide the dough in half before you chill it and then roll out one half at a time. When you're done cutting out your shapes, press the scraps together and pop them back into the refrigerator while you work with the other half. Then you can press all the scraps together and roll them out to cut more cookies.
Use just enough flour on the counter and rolling pin to keep the dough from sticking, and check the dough every so often to make sure it moves around freely on the counter. You may have to press firmly on the dough with the rolling pin at first, but once you get going, use a light hand—that makes it easier to roll the dough to an even thickness.
Besides a rolling pin—and of course, great cookie cutters—you might want to buy a couple pieces of equipment to ensure cookie baking success: an oven thermometer (because few of us have ovens that really run true to temperature), an extra couple of cookie sheets (because you shouldn't put unbaked cookies on hot cookie sheets), and parchment paper or silicone mats (for easy cookie removal and pan cleanup).
That's about all there is to it. Nothing fancy or complicated, just good common sense for good results. Of course, the fun part is decorating; I'll talk about that another time.
Happy summer baking!