Whether you have been baking for decades or are just learning, tips on making cookies -- not something typically done but a few times a year -- are a welcome reminder.
Don't forget to check expiration dates on products like baking powder and spices. More than a year on the shelf and items like nutmeg might need to be replaced.
The best cookie sheets to use are those with no sides or up to two short sides. They allow the heat to circulate easily during baking and promote even browning.
Use shortening or a nonstick cooking oil -- not butter -- to grease cookie sheets.
Instead of greasing, you can line the cookie sheets with parchment paper or a baking mat made from silicone and fiberglass.
Lining the cookie sheets eliminates cleanup and bakes the cookies more evenly. With parchment paper, cookies can cool right on the paper instead of on wire racks.
Store all baked cookies in an airtight container.
Don't put them into storage before they cool. Otherwise, condensation will collect and the cookies will become soggy.
Don't combine different kinds of cookies in one container. The chewier cookies will steal moisture from the crispier ones.
If soft cookies begin to dry out, add a piece of apple or bread to the container to help them retain moisture.
Baked cookies can be frozen in airtight containers or freezer bags for up to three months.
As a rule, crisp cookies freeze better than soft, moist cookies.
Rich, buttery bar cookies and brownies are an exception to this rule since they freeze extremely well.
Meringue-based cookies do not freeze well and chocolate-dipped cookies may discolor if frozen.
If you're not in the mood to bake that day or even the next, you can leave your batter in the refrigerator for two to three days before baking and in the freezer for up to three months. You don't even need to thaw the frozen cookie dough before you pop it in the oven.
Real butter. Real vanilla extract. Enough said.
Margarine -- If you insist on using margarine rather than butter, just make sure it contains enough fat. Check the label on the box to see that it's at least 80 percent vegetable oil or 100 calories per tablespoon.
Margarine that's not fat-heavy is water-heavy, which makes for soggy dough that will expand on your cookie sheet into one large amoeba cookie.
If you're using margarine instead of butter in your cookies, you should always freeze the dough for at least 20 minutes before baking.
Measuring -- If you use the wrong type of measuring cup for your ingredients, your measurements will be inaccurate. For example, if you measure your flour in a liquid measuring cup, you're likely to add a whole extra tablespoon to your batter, which, believe it or not, can derail your entire baking project.
Flour --Flour is a delicate thing, and it needs to be moved and measured carefully. You should stir up the flour a bit before you dip it from your container to your dry measuring cup. Don't heap or pack the flour into the cup. Just spoon it. And when you've filled the measuring cup, scrape the top edge with a spatula or a knife to even it out. Resist the urge to tap the measuring cup on the counter to level out the flour. That's not necessary.
Add-in's -- Add any chocolate chips to the batter last and don't stir them too long, either -- you don't want them to turn your batter brown.
Nuts -- if you want nuts in your cookies, add them to the batter last -- they'll wind up crunchier. And, if you're chopping up the nuts in a food processor beforehand, toss in a little flour and sugar from the recipe to absorb the nuts' oil. That way they won't clump together.
Batter -- Don't mix your batter too hard for too long; just blend it until it's smooth and creamy.
Chill out -- Chill the cookie dough before you bake it. This will give your batter more body and your cookies more rise. When you leave the batter in the fridge overnight, the proteins and the starch in the dough soaks up more of the liquid, which dries out the dough to result in a fuller, more delicious cookie.
Sources: Easy Home Cooking magazine,Crisco.com, Better Homes and Gardens, Cooking Light, America's Test Kitchen, NPR