Baking & Desserts

Top tips for baking cookies and dessert

Author: Canadian Living

Baking & Desserts

Top tips for baking cookies and dessert

Online food editor Christine Picheca hosted a forum on December 6th, 2007, and invited CanadianLiving.com readers to submit their holiday baking and cooking questions (though these tips are good for baking any time of the year). Read on for her tips on making chewy cookies, perfect shortbread, how to bake with Splenda and other artificial sweeteners, and more.

What's the best way to keep my cookies chewy? I always end up with either rock-hard or almost-soft cookies. I just fear they're not done enough plus I'm paranoid about having awful, raw cookies. Any advice?
- CG

Hey CG,
If you are baking drop-type cookies like chocolate chip cookies, underbake them slightly - they will continue to bake with the residual heat in them after they come out of the oven.
If they are something like a butter cookie, make sure you are baking at a low temperature - 200 - 250 degrees F - so that the cookies bake through but do not colour or are just golden.

Hi - my mom's shortbread used to melt in your mouth,
but mine is always harder and doesn't have the same effect. Any tips for that melty buttery sensation?
- Colleen

Colleen,
Everyone seems to have their own secret shortbread recipe. I think really good ones uses all butter and rice flour instead of regular wheat flour. It makes for a very soft melting texture because there is no gluten in the flour so the cookies have that melty quality - maybe that was your mother's secret too!

Also make sure you chill shortbread before you bake it plus bake at a low temperature so it doesn't over-brown.

Please help! I have tried numerous times to cut squares that have a chocolate icing (semi-sweet squares). The chocolate always cracks and breaks and I have to start over! What am I doing wrong? Is there a special type of chocolate I should be using?
-MB

MB - yes cutting the top of bars that have a chocolate coating can be challenging. Try bringing the bars to room temperature and use a sharp straight edge knife that has been dipped in hot water. When I want a really clean professional looking edge - I keep a tall pitcher of hot water next to where I am cutting the bars and dip the knife between cuts, also make sure you wipe the knife off so it doesn't smear melted chocolate and the bars stay clean.Can I use artificial sweeteners, such as Splenda, as a substitute when baking cookies or cakes?
- apicheca

Hello Mom - Good morning and thanks for the question!
I am personally not a fan of artificial sweeteners. Splenda recommends that you can substitute artificial sweetener one-for-one with sugar in recipes. I find that it dries out baked goods and so it is better to use a recipe that has been developed with artificial sweetener instead of sugar.

Our 2007 Holiday Best Special Issue has a whole feature on special diet desserts that have recipes and here is a link to a recipe for Orange Almond Shortbread if you are looking for a Christmas cookie.

Hi Christine,
I love this live forum, you should do these more often.
I have a cooling pan problem. Many recipes call for cooling cakes or baked
goods in the pan, cooling for 10 minutes then inverting and then just
inverting on a cooling rack and then some don't mention how to handle it at all. What is your rule of thumb for cooling cakes? And does that apply for cupcakes?

-Confused

The method for cooling that you have written is the best way to go. You want any baked goods to cool in the pan they have been baked on for a short amount of time because when an item comes right out if the oven the starches have not gelatinized so it is prone to fall apart if you try to remove it right away. After it has set you want to cool it down quickly so that the baking process is arrested as soon as possible - turning out onto a cooling rack is best where air can circulate which helps to cool it fast.

If you flip a cake onto a cooling rack I usually flip it back over so that it is sitting flat - this is especially true if the top of your cake is rounded because it can crack if it is not sitting flat. To do this I use the bottom of the pan I baked it in or another rack, set it on top of the cake and flip the whole thing (rack cake and top rack or pan) over so that it is right side up to cool - if I have used the bottom of my baking pan I then slide it back onto the original rack to cool.

Do the same thing for cupcakes and make sure they are totally cool before you ice them or the icing will melt even with just a little residual heat.

Hi Christine - I'm going to ask another question. Hope you don't mind. I've always wondered which are the best cookies to send via mail. It's always nice to receive a cookie package for Christmas but that's no good if the cookies crumble or the chocolate melts. Any suggestions?

No problem ask away!
You are right, fragile cookies do not fare well. A drop type cookie like hermits or ginger snaps are great for sending - wrap these in pairs and send in a box where they can be stacked together for protection. Also butter cookies that are uniformly shaped and not too fragile like shortbread, or ice box cookies work well because you can stack them together and wrap them and they protect each other.

Small round or shaped cookies work well in cookie tin - place a layer of bubble wrap to protect the beauties in transit.

What does flooding mean? I hear it used quite frequently, however, I'm not sure what it means... HELP!!
-William

William thanks for question. Flooding refers to a way of decorating cut-out cookies like gingerbread or sugar cookies when the whole top of the cookie is covered with icing. You would use royal icing (this is a combination of egg white or meringue powder and icing sugar and dries to a hard finish) to outline the shape you want to fill in and then essentially colour in the outline with the thinned out icing. You can get quite elaborate creative designs on a simple sugar cookies with this technique. You are probably seeing it a lot now because it is used quite often on cookies that you would hang as a decoration.

Hi Christine,
When making a pie crust, can butter be used instead of shortening?

-DKC

Yes, absolutely go ahead and substitute. It has approximately the same fat content as shortening so it can be substituted in equal quantites, cut it into small pieces, because of a slightly higher liquid content than shortening it is a bit harder and so not quite as easy to incorporate, and make sure it is very cold. I think that shortening makes for a slightly flakier crust but nothing beats the taste of butter!

Here is a link for more pastry tips and information on butter pastry.Hi Christine,
What are the best potatoes for making potato latkes? Does it make a difference if I am grating the potatoes fine or shredding them?

-Jammer

Jammer - great seasonal question, thanks for the post. Starchy potatoes work best for latkes because the starch helps to hold them together and a starchy potato will crisp up better when frying so a russet is good, and I also like a Yukon Gold beacuse they crisp up nicely and taste really good but the russet or PEI is probably more traditional.

I also heard a good tip yesterday to soak the grated potato in cold water before mixing in the other ingredients which helps to avoid the latkes from going soft after they are cooked. Haven't tried this I usually grate and fry as quickly as possible but I can see why this would be a good technique.

Happy Hanukkah!

Do you have a good recipe for applesauce to go with the latkes?
-Jammer

Jammer - of course you need a topping. This will link you to number of good suggestions. For latkes, I love to keep the skins on the apples when I cook them and then pass them through a food mill so that you get a pretty pink applesauce. Ida Reds or Mac's are good for this - mix with a few of spartan or cortands for extra body to the sauce.

Do you have a recipe for Sufganyiot? They are the doughnuts eaten on Hanukkah. Also I have never used yeast before, do you have any tips to help me out?
Thanks


Yes - Here is the link to the recipe. Yeast is easier to use then people think, Make sure it is fresh by proofing it first this means sprinkle it over some hot water and a bit of sugar - the yeast will begin to puff up and get frothy and then you know it is live and good to use. Make sure you allow whatever you are making to fully proof as per the directions of your recipe - don't worry too much about the amount of time the recipe indicates, it can vary depending on how warm your room is - it is more important to see that your dough as doubled the volume in the bowl it is proofing in.

Good luck with all of your holiday cooking and hope you have lots of hands to help you out!
-Christine Picheca
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