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Baker’s Tips for Awesome Cookies

Baking cookies is like a family: Each ingredient has its own special quality, and when you mix them all together, the result is awesome. Here are some cookie-baking tips from Daily Bread owner Patrick Judd and his family.

• Remind the kids (and the adults) to wash their hands thoroughly before they get started.

• When purchasing supplies for your holiday cookie baking, use only the finest ingredients. It’s the holidays, and the cookies are for family and friends, so splurge on the best.

• Use real cane sugar. Read the label: If it doesn’t say cane sugar, it’s probably beet sugar, which is not as good for baking.

• Use butter for flavor. However, some recipes include shortening and butter. There’s a reason for this: The combination of the two affects the texture of the cookie.

• Use unbleached flour. Our favorite is King Arthur Flour.

• Always use real vanilla instead of imitation.

• We prefer to use parchment paper on cookie sheets. The cookies brown nicely and you can transfer the cookies easily and reuse the cookie sheets. And there’s less cleanup!

• Read the recipe all the way through and measure out all the ingredients before starting.

• Follow the recipe directions exactly, at least the first time. If you want to make your own adjustments on the next batch, great.

• Don’t overlook the importance of specific mixing instructions. If the recipe says “beat egg before adding,” then do that, instead of adding the whole egg before mixing. For soft, cake-like cookies, the instructions probably will call for mixing the dough more. If you are baking a dense, chewy cookie, you probably will mix the dough a little less.

• Plan your baking schedule. We often mix the dough and freeze it to bake cookies later; bake the cookies and then freeze them; or choose a day when no one has anything to do. (Good luck with that last one!)

• Be certain the cookies are completely cool before packing them. Warm cookies produce steam, which when trapped in a container can cause the entire batch to soften or even spoil. Also, let iced or painted cookies set up and dry completely before storing them.

• Pack each variety of cookie in a separate container. Otherwise, the flavors of all the various types will mingle and become muddled, and the moisture in the soft, chewy cookies will cause the crisp ones to become limp.

• Pack cookies in airtight containers. Depending on the sturdiness of the cookies, suitable containers may include plastic boxes, metal tins, glass or ceramic canisters, cookie jars or heavy-duty plastic bags. In every case, the container should provide some protection against breakage and prevent exposure to the air.

• The most important thing to know about great bakers is that they always clean up after themselves!

©2011 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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