I have a sweet tooth and so does my family. After watching the documentary Fed Up (which I highly recommend!) and the previous article on sugar, I came to understand even more than ever how harmful sugar can be. I cut our family down even more than they already were.
This brings us to my cookies. What? But you just said…? Yes, I did. But even I must concede that we in our family cannot give up sugar 100%. And I have noticed that the more you restrict something like that, the more it will backfire on you. I have had a few years to experiment with my family’s response to how I manage their food choices. I notice that if I provide a little homemade treat on a regular basis, they still feel as though they are getting goodies. It has gone a long way in how much they seek out junky food. Homemade means I have some control as to what goes into the food we eat on a regular basis.
My cookies are awesome. Yeah, I said awesome. They are requested at most every gathering I attend. I have spent 15 years perfecting the art of a good, simple chocolate chip cookie. Here are the best tips and tricks I have gathered over the years.
First, you need the right equipment.
- An inexpensive oven thermometer is a must. I couldn’t figure out for years why my baked goods were coming out all wrong until an inexpensive oven thermometer revealed a 50 degree difference from what I set it to versus what it really heated. Makes all the difference.
- Parchment paper. This is a baker’s best friend! (When making my other oft-requested baked good banana bread I line the pan with this instead of buttering & flour). This makes it so that the bottom of your cookie bakes evenly & resembles the top of the cookie. No burnt bottoms! You can grab a roll of Reynolds parchment paper at Target for under $4. Or a Silpat silicone pad will work just as well – for the cookies, not the banana bread. If you are eco-conscious, then Whole Foods carries a parchment paper that has not been bleached or has had chlorine added.
- An insulated cookie sheet. This allows for hot air to circulate evenly around the cookie.
Now you need the right ingredients.
- High quality chocolate chips – Forgo the Nestle’s and try Ghiradelli 60% cocoa chocolate chips are all around the best bang for your buck. Target has the best price I’ve found, $2.55 a bag. Makes a HUGE difference.
- Butter – NOT margarine, not lard, not butter flavored spread-like substance…BUTTER. And the BETTER the butter, the better the cookie. When I need to make extra special cookies, I use Kerry Gold salted butter. $3.19 a pound at my Trader Joes AND Whole Foods. If not, Trader Joes salted butter works well. Just use a good butter!
- Brown sugar – I use dark brown sugar and my latest, greatest addition to my cookie perfection is Trader Joes Organic Brown Sugar. Pack down lightly in cup measure. The caramel flavors the molasses imparts, oy!
- I also use Trader Joes organic sugar. I think it has a good flavor & it is unbleached. That’s a green mom thing. Use whatever sugar you like.
- Flour – King Arthur flour is an overall good brand. I use the organic white whole wheat, my kids can’t tell the difference.
- Vanilla – use the real deal, no imitation junk. And if the recipe calls for a teaspoon, put in 2 or even 3 teaspoons. Yep. Don’t be shy.
- Baking soda, baking powder – make sure they aren’t too old for best results. You KNOW how some of that stuff can sit in a cabinet unused for years.
- Salt – I use Celtic sea salt in all of my cooking, fine grind. It tastes delicious! A bag lasts a long time, too. Amazon has good prices on it.
- Eggs – should be on the fresh side. Here’s how to tell how old your egg is.
OK, now for prep!
- Butter and eggs – room temperature seems to be recommended in every pro chocolate chip cookie recipe I have come across
- Beat butter, vanilla & sugars – until fluffy or however the recipe directs you. Scrape down the sides.
- Salt, baking powder/baking soda – Now add in your salt, baking powder or baking soda, whatever the recipe dictates. I have found it gets mixed in more thoroughly than if added it to the flour. You know how some flour gets stuck on the sides or the bottom of the bowl during prep, you don’t want your baking soda or powder to get stuck there, too. Mix it in.
- Now add in your eggs according to directions. For example, one at a time versus all of them all at once.
- Adding flour. Important step! Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. Measure out the flour by spooning it into a dry measure cup (no packing down), then leveling it off with a knife. Add one cup to the mix, turn your mixer on low, mix just until absorbed. Do the same for however many cups of flour the recipe calls for. When it is all mixed in, stop. PRO BAKING TIP: Once you add the wet and dry ingredients in a baked good, it activates gluten. Over mixing develops the gluten, creating a leaden, heavy final product with a less tender crumb – a tough cookie. Unless the instructions tell you to mix your wet and dry ingredients for a specific amount of time, like for a bread dough, mix just until everything is properly combined. No need to beat the tar out of it.
- Now pour in the chips, and mix just until they are evenly distributed.
- Random add-ins: sometimes I will throw in 2 to 4 tablespoons of chia, hemp, flax or sesame seeds to add interesting textures and a bit more heft to the cookie. The hemp and chia add a chewiness, flax and sesame add a bit of a crunch. All of these add some nutrition & fiber. And hey, did you know that NO other food or beverage has more calcium than sesame seeds? Surprise! I would experiment with a small amount to see how your family reacts to having seeds in their cookies. Most of the time no one will care – it’s got chocolate and you are calling it a cookie, so it’s all good.
(You are so close! Taste that cookie dough – you know it’s gonna rock!)
Now you are ready to bake. Line your insulated baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop three rows of three teaspoon size cookies for a MAXIMUM of nine cookies on the sheet. You need to give the cookies room for the hot air to circulate & bake evenly. Trust me! Unless you have an extra large baking sheet and a large oven. Then, go for it.
Cookies should cool for a while on the cookie sheet they baked on to finish the baking process.
Now – when to pull your cookies from the oven? Hint: NOT when they appear DONE! If they are done when you pull them out, they will be dry and overdone when you serve them. The residual heat in the cookie and from the baking sheet will continue to bake them. Pull them out when they look like they could just use a minute, maybe a minute and a half more. You will feel unsure when you pull them out, that’s normal. Also, as you get towards the end of baking this batch, the oven is going to get hotter, so keep an eye on the cookies so as not to accidentally over bake. This is a good learning experience for a batch of cookies just for the family. (Trust me, the kids will eat them either way. And an overdone cookie can be made moist by throwing it in the microwave for 10 seconds to eat on the fly with your coffee.)
Have your second tray of cookies ready to go when the first tray is done. Let the tray cool until you notice the cookies are looking done. Transfer then with a spatula over to a square of parchment laid out on the counter. Let cool completely before transferring to your preferred method of storage. Too soon and your still warm cookie will give off moisture that will leave them a bit mushy when you go to eat them.
Do not load your just unloaded tray until you are ready to get it into the oven. You don’t want the residual heat from the tray to melt the dough & chips before they have a chance to bake. That screws up the baking process and you could end up misjudging when to pull the cookies. This can resulting in an underdone cookie that just never finishes baking unless you bake it until crispy. If you like crispy, then great!
Want your cookies to look like they are bursting with chocolate chips? You don’t want to overdo it by adding more than a bag of chocolate chips for a recipe, but maybe you want it to look like there’s more. Hold back a quarter of the bag of chips, then after spooning the dough onto the sheet, place 2-3 chips on top. They will come out looking like you threw in half an extra bag of chips without actually going overboard. They don’t travel as well since the chips placed on top will smear when stored with the rest of the cookies, so maybe save this one for when you are serving them right away at home.
Now, as for my two favorite go-to recipes…the commissary cookie recipe with OR without the
oatmeal. Either way is a huge hit! And what I call the hot water recipe, this is a great classic cookie recipe. Yum yum yum! Can’t go wrong.
When I am making cookies for the family, I never bake the whole batch. I will bake just enough for that day, then refrigerate the rest. When I’m making dinner, I will throw a tray in while we eat, let it cool while we clean up, and enjoy a warm fresh cookie for dessert afterwards. (Kid who helps the most in the kitchen gets first pick of the tray!) Cookies made fresh and without preservatives will go stale in a couple of days, so why make it all at once unless it is going to be eaten all at once?
I’d really appreciate any more cookie baking tips or feedback from this post. I bake so many cookies for so many kid activities & get-togethers that I am open to suggestion. I stick with what I know because I always get such a positive response, from kids and parents.
Guest post by Laura Vendever
It’s everywhere you look: sugar is the latest terrible-for-you thing in the news. It joins, over the years, coffee, salt, eggs, fat, and smoking—but in the long run, only a couple of those things were actually dangerous. The others, not so much.
Today’s super-villain is sugar. Words used to describe it, in relation to health, include “toxic,” “poisonous,” and even “deadly.”
But is sugar really deadly?
My kids love these kinds of activities. We are seeing slacklines and ziplines pop up in everyone’s backyard as the kids start to outgrow their swing sets. My daughter already rocks a unicyle, why not add to the balance challenge?
Now, let’s see how it goes…maybe I will consider putting up a zip line as well. Maybe.