Better cookies, bars and squares

The Test Kitchen staff spill their secrets for heavenly baked goods.

By The Canadian Living Test Kitchen

How to bake better bars, cookies and sqaures
Chocolate Caramel Cookies
Photography by Matthew Kimura

Ever notice how Grandma's cookies and squares are always softer, lighter and more melt-in-your-mouth delicious than anyone else's? Her secret ingredient, of course, is an extra cup of love. But after years of practice, she also knows every trick in the book for making flawless baked goods.

To help you shave some trial-and-error time, we've compiled the Canadian Living Test Kitchen's best tips and tricks to better cookies, bars and squares. Happy baking!

Better bars & squares
• To line cake pan with parchment paper, cut piece of parchment larger than pan. Place pan on top of parchment and cut corners diagonally to corners of pan. Fit into pan, neatly overlapping cut corners.

• Check bars at first of the times specified if there is a range given.

• To make neat presentation, lift uncut batch of bars out of pan using paper liner to grip; with large knife, trim off edges before cutting into bars (use ruler for accuracy).

• Cut bars depending on the occasion: small squares are appropriate for afternoon tea and after-dinner coffee; large bars for bake sales and snacks.

Better cookies
• Bring all ingredients to room temperature before starting.

• Make cookies the same size and shape for even baking and browning.

• Use rimless baking sheets with slightly slanted lips so that heat can circulate around cookies. Rimmed sheets are less suitable, but if they are all you have in your cupboard, use them. You can turn them over and use the flat bottoms. Heavy, shiny sheets are best. They bake cookies evenly, prevent bottoms from browning too quickly and do not warp.

• Line baking sheets with parchment paper, silicone baking liners or grease as directed in recipe.

• Bake one sheet at a time on rack positioned in centre of oven. However, to bake more than one sheet of cookies at a time, position racks in top and bottom thirds of oven and rotate sheets from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through baking time.

• If you have only one or two baking sheets, let the sheets cool completely between baking the batches. Hot baking sheets will melt cookie dough, resulting in changes to the texture and shape of cookies.

• Always check cookies for doneness at the earliest time called for.

• Let cookies cool completely on rack to prevent soggy bottoms.

• Store crisp and soft cookies separately in airtight containers.

Scrumptious recipes to get you started
Now that you're in the mood, why not try your hand at a few of our favourite recipes?

Bake-When-You're-Craving Chocolate Toffee Cookies
It's easy to serve fresh-baked cookies on a moment's notice when logs of the make-ahead dough are on hand.

Almond Cookies
A mini ice-cream scoop is a quick way to form these nutty balls, a favourite recipe of Shanta Solanki of Woodbridge, Ont.

Gingerbread Cookies
The balance of spices and the two kinds of molasses give these cookies a most appealing taste that does not fade, even when the cookies are several weeks old.

Butter Tart Squares
Careful -- they're addictive!

Puckery Lemon Bars
For those who prefer a tangy treat, serve these citrusy tidbits.

Could your cakes use a little oomph? Find our best cake tips here.

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