Skip to main content

Get instant access to everything. 2-Week Free Trial

Make 2021 the year of “Why not?” in the kitchen with Digital All Access. Get all our recipes, videos, and up-to-date ratings and cook anything with confidence.

Get Free Access ▸

Cookie Baking 101

By Carolyn Grillo Published

Using the right equipment and the very best ingredients can prevent common baking mishaps. We’ve gathered years of test kitchen knowledge to help ensure your cookie-baking success.

Seven Must-Have Pieces of Equipment

You don't need a million cookie cutters or fancy baking tools to make most cookies—but we do recommend investing in a few key items. Here are the seven pieces of equipment we think are essential.

  • 1. Digital Kitchen Scales

    Using an accurate kitchen scale to measure dry ingredients such as flour and sugar is the best way to ensure that your baked goods turn out as intended. Our winner is sturdily constructed and responsive and features a removable platform for easy cleaning. Plus, it’s easy to switch between imperial and metric systems of measurement.

    Winner: OXO Good Grips 11 lb Food Scale with Pull Out Display ($49.99)

     

  • 2. Measuring Spoons

    We love the design of our favorite set of measuring spoons. The narrow bowls of the spoons are oval, so they fit in most spice jars. The simple oval shape also lends itself to our preferred method of volume measuring, the dip-and-sweep method. First, dip the measuring spoon (or a dry measuring cup) into a dry ingredient until it’s overflowing, and then sweep across the bowl of the spoon (or measuring cup) with a straight edge, such as the back of a knife, to return the excess back into its container.

    Tip: When measuring a sticky ingredient such as honey, molasses, or peanut butter, spray the spoon with vegetable oil spray first to keep the ingredient from sticking.

    Winner: Cuisipro Stainless Steel 5-Piece Measuring Spoons ($12.33)

     

  • 3. Inexpensive Stand Mixers

    Our winner has a powerful motor and a highly efficient mixing arm that can mix stiff or chunky cookie dough with ease.

    Winner: KitchenAid KSM75WH Classic Plus Series 4.5-Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer ($254.99)

  • 4. Silicone Spatulas

    Our favorite silicone spatula is firm enough to scrape down the sides of bowls and fold ingredients into cookie dough yet flexible and agile enough to spread batter.

    Winner: Di Oro Living Seamless Silicone Spatula—Large ($10.97)

     

  • 5. Parchment Paper

    We line baking sheets with pieces of parchment paper to ensure that our cookies release effortlessly. We like precut sheets, which are sized to fit standard rimmed baking sheets and can be stored completely flat.

    Tip: Did you know that you can reuse parchment paper when baking cookies? We've found that a single piece can be used to make up to five batches without any sticking or spreading issues. Reach for a fresh sheet if your parchment becomes overly messy or dry and brittle.

    Winner: King Arthur Flour Parchment Paper 100 Half-Sheets ($19.95 per package)

     

  • 6. Rimmed Baking Sheets and Cookie Sheets

    We use both rimmed baking sheets and cookie sheets when baking cookies. The main difference between the two is that cookie sheets are unrimmed. Both sheets produce evenly baked cookies, but those baked on rimless cookie sheets will finish baking several minutes before cookies baked on a rimmed baking sheet (see “Making the Most of Your Oven” below to learn why.)

    Winners: Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet ($14.97) and Vollrath Wear-Ever Cookie Sheet (Natural Finish) ($32.29)

     

  • 7. Wire Racks

    Wire racks allow air to circulate all around the cookies as they cool. Our winner fits snugly inside our favorite rimmed baking sheet, so it can be used for tasks beyond cooling (we bake slices of almond biscotti on a wire rack, for example).

    Winner: Checkered Chef Cooling Rack ($12.95)

     

Eight Key Ingredients and How to Store Them

Using the right ingredients is just as important as using the right equipment when you're baking cookies. Here's what to stock and how to store it. We've also highlighted the winners of our taste tests.

  • 1. Flour

    Flour gives cookies structure, crumb, and chew. We use mainly all-purpose flour, but we sometimes use cake flour, which has a low amount of protein, when making fine-crumbed, delicate cookies.

    Store: In the pantry in an airtight container for up to a year

    Tip: Whole-wheat flour contains more fat than refined flours and quickly turns rancid at room temperature, so it should be stored in the freezer. Make sure to let flour kept in the freezer come to room temperature before using it.

  • 2. Sugar 

    In addition to providing a cookie’s requisite sweetness, sugar contributes to its moisture level, chew, structure, and browning. Granulated sugar is typically incorporated into cookies, while confectioners’ sugar and turbinado sugar are used primarily to decorate and add crunch to the exterior of cookies, respectively.

    Store: At room temperature in an airtight container indefinitely

  • 3. Brown Sugar 

    Brown sugar is granulated sugar that has been combined with molasses. Light brown sugar is made with less molasses than dark brown sugar. If the type of brown sugar is important in one of our recipes, we call for that specific sugar in the ingredient list. If either type can be used, we simply call for brown sugar.

    Store: At room temperature in an airtight container to prevent it from drying out

    Tip: We use the Sugar Bears Inc. Brown Sugar Bear ($3.25) to keep our brown sugar soft. If you don’t have one and your brown sugar becomes hard, place it in a bowl with a slice of sandwich bread, cover, and microwave for 10 to 20 seconds to revive it.

  • 4. Eggs 

    Egg yolks and whites perform a variety of functions in baking, including binding, thickening, emulsifying, and leavening. They also provide fat and moisture. For consistency’s sake, we call for large eggs (about 2 ounces each) in our recipes.

    Store: In the refrigerator for up to three months 

    Tip: Both the yolks and the whites will become looser and the eggs will begin to lose their structure-lending properties over time, so use the freshest eggs possible for baking. Store eggs in the back of the refrigerator (the coldest area), not in the door (the warmest area), and keep them in their carton; it keeps the eggs from drying out and protects them from odors.

  • 5. Unsalted Butter 

    We call for unsalted butter in our cookie recipes because the sodium level in salted butter can vary and we prefer to control the seasoning in our cookies. Plus, salted butter almost always contains more water than unsalted butter, which can interfere with gluten development, an especially important factor in baking. 

    Store: In the back of the refrigerator (where it’s coldest) for one month 

    Tip: Butter can pick up off-flavors when kept in the refrigerator for longer than a month, and it can turn rancid as its fat oxidizes. For longer storage (up to four months), move it to the freezer. And because butter quickly picks up odors and flavors, we like to slip the sticks into a zipper-lock bag, whether they’re stored in the refrigerator or in the freezer.

    Winner: Challenge Unsalted Butter ($4.49 per pound)

     

    Butter Temperature Matters

    The temperature of butter, whether softened, chilled, or melted, affects the texture of finished cookies. We call for using softened butter in the creaming method, which requires beating the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy before adding the remaining ingredients. This creaming step is vital to providing structure and leavening for drop cookies. We also call for softened butter when using the reverse-creaming method. This method requires combining the butter with all the dry ingredients before mixing in the remaining ingredients. We use this method to achieve a particularly tender texture. We chill small cubes of butter when we need to cut the butter into the flour to create flaky layers. Melted butter, whether added to a cookie batter to create chew or to encourage spread, should be cooled so that it doesn’t warm up the other ingredients.

  • 6. Chemical Leaveners 

    We call for chemical leaveners—baking powder or baking soda—in many of our recipes to help cookies rise during baking. Without the transformative powers of leaveners, many baked goods would emerge from the oven dense, flat, or hard. 

    Store: In the pantry or a cabinet

    Tip: Once a container of baking powder is opened, it will lose its effectiveness after six months, so we suggest labeling your container with the date it was opened.

    Winner: Argo Double Acting Baking Powder ($1.73 for 12 ounces)

     

    The Differences Between Baking Powder and Baking Soda 

    Baking soda is a single-ingredient product that reacts when combined with acidic ingredients and releases carbon dioxide to provide lift in baked goods. In recipes with a high proportion of acidic ingredients such as sour cream, molasses, or brown sugar, baking soda performs well on its own. Since the production of carbon dioxide starts as soon as the baking soda is mixed with an acidic ingredient, baking should take place right away.

    Baking powder is a mix of baking soda or another alkaline ingredient and one or more acid ingredients that are activated at different temperatures (and a starch to keep the chemicals dry). Baking powder works twice—when it first comes in contact with a liquid and again in response to heat.

  • 7. Cocoa Powder

    When we want big chocolate flavor, we turn to cocoa powder because it has a higher proportion of flavorful cocoa solids, ounce for ounce, than any other form of chocolate. There are two styles—Dutch-processed and natural. We prefer to use Dutched-processed cocoa when a recipe calls for a high proportion of cocoa powder because its fat adds richness and flavor to cookies. It can also help ensure that cookies bake up moist and tender

    Store: In a cool, dry place, such as the pantry (We’ve found that cocoa powder stored in this way can still be used years past its expiration date.)

    Winner: Droste Cacao ($9.99 for 8.8 ounces)

     

    The Differences Between Natural Cocoa Powder and Dutched-Processed Cocoa Powder

    Dutch-processed cocoa is treated with an alkalizing agent that neutralizes some of its acidity so that the cocoa powder’s deep, earthy notes come to the forefront. Baked goods made with Dutch-processsed cocoa powder have less rise than baked goods made with natural cocoa powder and are perceived as fudgier. The processing darkens the color of the cocoa to velvety brown or near black.

    Natural cocoa powder is more acidic than Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Baked goods made with it also rise higher and are perceived as drier than those made with Dutch-processed cocoa. Its color is usually sandy brown with a reddish tint, and it gives bright and fruity flavors to baked goods.

  • 8. Vanilla 

    Vanilla is the most commonly used flavoring in cookie baking. There are two types: pure and imitation. Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in liquid, typically a mixture of alcohol and water. Imitation vanilla is manufactured in a lab and is flavored primarily with synthesized vanillin, the main flavor component of cured vanilla beans. In short, there’s not much flavor difference between a well-made imitation vanilla and the real thing in baked goods, especially when baked in cookies. The additional flavor and aroma compounds in pure vanilla begin to bake off and dissipate at higher temperatures, so the subtleties are lost. Because which type of vanilla you choose to buy is a personal choice, we’ve named two winners, one of each type.

    Store: At room temperature in its original container indefinitely

    Winners: Imitation Vanilla: Baker's Imitation Vanilla Flavor ($0.98 for 8 fluid ounces) and Pure Vanilla: Simply Organic Pure Vanilla Extract ($12.99 for 4 fluid ounces)

Storing Baked Cookies: How Long Do They Last?

We want to enjoy freshly-baked cookies for as much time as we can. Read on to find out how long common cookie types normally last and how to prolong their freshness.

  • Drop Cookies: About three days in an airtight container at room temperature 

     

    Slice-and-Bake Cookies: About one week in an airtight container at room temperature

    Tip: Store chewy cookies with a piece of bread to keep them from drying out.

     

    Brownies and Blondies: About five days in an airtight container at room temperature. Brownies with perishable ingredients, such as cream cheese, may require refrigeration. 

    Tip: Leave brownies uncut to help retain their freshness.

Winning Storage Equipment

Whether you're storing all-purpose flour, keeping cookies fresh, or freezing unbaked cookie dough, we have all the equipment you need.

  • For sugar and flour storage, we found that the Cambro 6-Quart Square Storage Container ($23.74 for container and lid) is the best option. It’s sturdy, spacious, and dead simple to use and clean, with no pointless bells or whistles.

  • Our favorite container to use as a cookie jar is the OXO Good Grips Pop Storage Container, Big Square 4 Quart ($16.99). This container has an airtight seal that is activated by a pop-up button on the lid. We also liked that the clear plastic jar shows off what’s inside.

  • We use Elkay Plastics Ziplock Heavy Weight Freezer Bag ($9.69 for 100 bags) and Ziploc Brand Freezer Bags with Easy Open Tabs ($5.37 for 28 bags) for freezing cookie dough. These thick bags have tight, secure seals that provide excellent protection and closure.

    Tip: By keeping unbaked cookie dough in the freezer, you can satisfy your craving for freshly baked cookies anytime. 

    How-To: After making the dough, portion it into balls and place the balls either on a parchment-lined baking sheet or on large plates. Place them in the freezer until the balls are frozen solid, at least 30 minutes. Remove the frozen balls from the sheet, transfer them to a zipper-lock bag, and place them back in the freezer for up to two months.

How to Successfully Ship Holiday Cookies

When mailed to friends and family far and wide, homemade cookies are thoughtful holiday gifts, but not if they arrive in tiny pieces. Here are a few tips to help you safeguard your shipments.

  • Select Wisely: Cookies that are baked until they’re dried throughout, such as gingersnaps, remain intact, crunchy, and fresh-tasting. Moist, dense brownies and bar cookies also fare well, but chewy lace cookies are often reduced to shards.

    Combine Like with Like: When packed in the same containers, moist brownies will turn crisp meringues to mush and gingersnaps will transfer their spicy flavor to mild spritz cookies. 

    Stack Bars: To protect bar cookies, place pieces of parchment paper between them, wrap small stacks tightly in plastic wrap, and enclose them in zipper-lock bags.

    Pack with Padding: Surround wrapped cookies with lightweight bulk. Packing peanuts, Bubble Wrap, and even popcorn work well. Place delicate items in the center of the box.

Cookie Troubleshooting

Even the most seasoned bakers have hiccups in the kitchen. Below are some helpful tips we've picked up over the years about what to do when common problems arise.

  • Problem: Cookies are inconsistent in size 

    Solution: To ensure consistent size, even baking, and the proper yield, use a portion scoop.

     

    Problem: Cookies run together

    Solution: To ensure enough space between cookies, alternate the rows. Place three cookies in the first row, two in the second, three in the third, and so on.

     

    Problem: Chewy cookies aren’t chewy

    Solution: To ensure chewy cookies, take them out of the oven when they’re still slightly underdone. Crevices should appear moist and the edges of smooth cookies should be lightly browned.

     

    Problem: Cookies are overbaked

    Solution: Cookies bake quickly, so don’t walk away while they’re in the oven. However, if you’ve overbaked your cookies, transfer them directly to a wire rack once you remove them from the oven; otherwise, they’ll keep cooking from the residual heat of the baking sheet.

     

    Problem: The last cookie is always short on chips

    Solution: Reserve some morsels to add later. Stir them into the dough after about half of it has been scooped out.

Making the Most of Your Oven

How important is the placement of an oven rack in a recipe? Will my cookies bake evenly if I don't rotate them while they're baking? Does it matter if I use a cookie sheet or a rimmed baking sheet when baking cookies? We answer all of these oven-related questions below.

  • Adjust oven racks as directed: When we’re baking just one sheet of cookies at a time, we nearly always bake them on the middle rack. When we’re baking two sheets at a time, we tend to use the upper-middle and lower-middle positions. The closer to the bottom of the oven, the browner the bottoms of the cookies will be relative to the tops.

     

    Rotate baking sheets: Even the best ovens have cold and hot spots, so rotating the baking sheet (the cookies that were in the front will now be in the back of the oven) is essential. And if you’re baking two sheets at once, switch their positions halfway through baking as well as rotate their orientation. This will also ensure even baking.

     

    Choose your baking sheet wisely: Heat rises from the element at the bottom of the oven and circulates in currents to warm the entire chamber. A rimmed baking sheet’s raised edges divert hot air currents from the cookies to the top of the oven. A rimless sheet allows hot air to immediately sweep over the cookies. That means cookies baked on a rimless sheet brown more quickly and can finish sooner than those baked on a rimmed baking sheet. We like baking cookies with both types of sheets; just be aware of the type of baking sheet you’re using and the timing. We like to check on cookies a minute or two before the timer goes off.

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.