Cookies are an extremely popular dessert because they are fast and easy to make, extremely versatile, and come in a great variety of flavors, shapes, and textures. The key to making great cookie dough is handling the butter and the mixing of the dough. If the butter is too warm, for example, you end up with greasy cookies. Most recipes call for you to use butter that is soft, but not warm. You can achieve this by beating cut up butter straight from the refrigerator until it softens. Different types of cookies call for the butter to be handled in different ways. How the butter is mixed with the other ingredients greatly affects the texture of your cookies. Be sure to follow directions closely.
Most cookie doughs require that the ingredients be creamed together in one way or another, but in just about every case it is important to mix as little as possible once the flour has been added so that your cookies do not become tough from over-worked flour. When baking cookies, it is important to have some knowledge of how your oven runs temperature wise. Most ovens have spots that are hotter or colder than others. For this reason, it is always best to rotate your cookie trays from back to front and from top to bottom.
The two most common types of cookies are drop cookies and refrigerator cookies.
Drop cookies are the fastest and easiest to make and are usually made just before they are baked. Once the dough is made, these cookies are spooned or shaped into balls and placed, or dropped, onto a baking pan. These cookies are tender and buttery and can range from crispy to chewy depending on the recipe and your personal preferences. Drop cookie dough freezes incredibly well and it is possible to have fresh baked cookies in a few minutes by keeping prepared dough rolled into balls in your freezer. You can then pop the dough onto a pan straight from the freezer and bake the cookies. Chocolate chip cookies are the quintessential drop cookie.
Refrigerator, or rolled cookies, must be made ahead of time because they need to chill in the refrigerator before you work with them. This type of cookie dough is often formed into a log shape, which is then sliced into disks and baked, or is rolled out and cut into varying shapes with cookie cutters. Rolled cookies are typically more crumbly and less chewy than drop cookies, but if you prefer them on the chewy side you can under-bake them a little and remove them from the oven while they are still a little soft in the middle. Refrigerator cookies also freeze well and can be baked straight out of the freezer.
Bar cookies, which include brownies and blondies, are easy to make and usually require simply spreading drop cookie dough or batter into a pan. Certain types of bar cookies, such as lemon bars, require that you blind bake the crust ahead of time so the crust does not become soggy when the filling is added to it. Some bar cookies have multiple ingredients that are layered and baked together, and others do not need to be baked at all. Bar cookies are often baked in a parchment paper lined pan so they are easier to remove. They also freeze quite well and should be wrapped tightly to prevent freezer burn.
About the Author
After receiving degrees from the University of Wisconsin and the Culinary Institute of America, Andrea Rappaport moved into a full-time career in the restaurant business. For over 12 years, she worked in various culinary jobs, including as a cook for Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and ultimately as the executive chef and partner of the highly revered San Francisco restaurant Zinzino. For the past seven years, Andrea has worked as the private chef for one family in the San Francisco area, and continues to expand her culinary portfolio by catering, teaching, and consulting.