The Zen of Measuring and Mixing
Baking cookies is actually a scientific process. Like any other formula, a recipe is written in a certain way to achieve certain results. It is important to read your recipe all the way through before beginning. Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand and in the amounts specified. Mix them in the order given in the recipe instructions. Careful mixing will mean that your cookies do not have streaks of flour or lumps of baking soda in the finished treat.
Measure for Accuracy
Accurate measurements mean that your cookies will come out the same time after time. When you know how to measure accurately there are no surprises in the finished product. Some people seem to have a knack for adding the right amount of baking powder or salt by just judging the amount. It is a risky way to bake because anyone can have an off day!
Here are the methods for measuring different types of ingredients.
Measure the flour by sifting first and then lightly spooning into a measuring cup and leveling it off even with the top. Use a butter knife to level it. Do not pack down.
To measure sugar, just spoon into the measuring cup and level off the top.
Brown sugar is measured by packing it down into the measuring cup. When you tip it out into your recipe it should keep its shape.
Confectioners’, or powdered, sugar should be sifted before measuring. Spoon it into a measuring cup lightly and level off with a butter knife.
Salt, spices, baking powder, and baking soda are all measured by using the measuring spoon to scoop out the ingredient and then leveling it off gently with a butter knife.
Cornstarch should be lightly spooned into the measuring cup and then leveled off with a knife. If your recipe calls for a tablespoon or less, use the proper measuring spoon to scoop it out of the container and proceed as for measuring salt.
To measure flavorings like vanilla, just pour them from the bottle into the properly sized measuring spoon. The liquid should be level with the rim of the spoon.
Milk, juice, and water are measured by pouring them into the measuring cup until the liquid is level with the top.
Oil, honey, and syrup are measured the same way as other liquids. You may need to use a spoon to get all of the ingredient out of the measuring cup.
Fats are measured by spooning into a measuring cup and pressing down firmly to get rid of any air pockets. Sticks of butter generally have the measurements printed on the side in tablespoon increments. One stick or ¼ pound of butter is equal to ½ cup.
When you are measuring whole-wheat flour, don’t sift it; just stir it lightly and then spoon into the measuring cup. Level off even with the top, as for all-purpose flour. You only need to sift whole-wheat flour when you want to remove the bran.
If you measure the oil called for in a recipe before you measure honey, molasses, or syrup the sticky ingredient will slide right out of the measuring cup. Recipe doesn’t call for oil? Lightly oil the measuring cup before measuring the honey and you will have the same easy results.
Mixing the Dough
Nearly every cookie recipe in existence uses the creaming method of mixing the dough. In this technique the fat and sugar are “creamed” together with a mixer until they are light and fluffy. Generally, the eggs and flavorings are added at this point. Once the eggs are incorporated into the butter mixture the dry ingredients are stirred in, either by hand or at low speed on a mixer.
If you are hand mixing cookie dough, it takes approximately 150–200 strokes to thoroughly cream the butter and sugar together. You will need a sturdy wooden spoon and a strong arm. It is no wonder that pioneer women had muscles!
The dough will mix up better if all the ingredients are at room temperature. The butter should not be melting, but it should not be hard, either. When the eggs are beaten in at room temperature the texture of the finished cookie is better.
Stir in the sifted dry ingredients carefully. Mix them into the butter mixture until there are no streaks of flour or lumps of baking powder. Be careful not to toughen the cookies by over mixing the dough. Once the cookie dough is finished, the remaining ingredients like chocolate chips, raisins, and nuts are stirred in with a wooden spoon.
Once the ingredients have been mixed, proceed with the recipe according to the instructions.