How to read a recipe
The very first step in cooking and baking is to read the recipe all the way through, from beginning to end. This way you will know that you have all the ingredients and tools on hand. You will also be able to look up terms you don't understand so cooking proceeds smoothly.
Most good recipes start with the ingredient list, and the ingredients are listed in the order they are used.
Measurements in recipes are critical. When a recipe calls for a tablespoon or teaspoon, which means for you to use actual measuring utensils, not spoons that you use for eating and serving. When you are baking, dry ingredients and liquid ingredients are measured using different sets of utensils. Dry ingredient measures are usually plastic or metal. Liquid ingredient measures are usually glass, with a pouring spout and marks along the side of the cup. It's important to use the correct measuring utensil when baking.
After you have read the recipe, gather all the ingredients, pots, pans, bowls, and measuring utensils you will need. Go slowly and double check all the steps and ingredients.
This recipe (to the right), for White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies, is quite easy to make. The words with numbers next to them are discussed in the notes below.
White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
• 1/2 cup butter, softened (1)
• 1 cup packed brown sugar (2)
• 1/2 cup white sugar
• 2 large eggs (3)
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
• 2 cups all-purpose flour (4)
• 1 teaspoon baking soda (5)
• 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped (6)
• 1 bar (4 oz) white chocolate, chopped in 1/4" chunks
• Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (7). Also see note (13).
• In a large bowl, mix together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth (8).
• Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla and almond extracts (9).
• Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt (10); gradually stir into the wet ingredients (11).
• Mix in the macadamia nuts and white chocolate (12)(13).
• Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets (14).
• Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown (15). Cool on pans for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks (16), cool completely (17).
• (1) Allowing the butter to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes will bring it to the right consistency for mixing. It should be soft enough that you can make an indentation with your finger, but not to the point that it has started to melt.
• (2) Brown sugar must be pressed firmly into the measuring cup, then unmolded. The sugar should hold the shape of the cup when it's released.
• (3) Eggs should be at room temperature. Add unbroken eggs to a bowl of room temperature tap water for 5 minutes to speed the process.
• (4) Flour is measured carefully in baking. Spoon it lightly into the measuring cup - don't scoop it out using the cup. Don't pack it or shake the cup. When the flour is overflowing the cup, use a knife to level it off.
• (5) Baking powder and baking soda are two very different ingredients. Baking powder is baking soda mixed with another ingredient. Baking soda needs to be combined with an acidic ingredient like brown sugar or molasses.
• (6) Chop nuts until the pieces are a uniform size, about 1/4" in diameter. You can do this with a chef's knife or a small hand turned nut chopper. Look for the position of the descriptor or comma. If the recipe says 'one cup nuts, chopped' that means measure the nuts, then chop. If it says 'one cup nuts chopped' that means measure the nuts after they are chopped.
• (7) This means turn on the oven about 10 minutes before you want to bake the cookies. Put the rack in the center of the oven and turn it on. After 10 minutes, check the temperature with an oven thermometer. Adjust as necessary.
• (8) Beat butter with an electric mixer until it is smooth. This ensures that the butter is sufficiently softened and mixes completely with the other ingredients, which eliminates lumps of fat in the dough. Beat in the sugar slowly until combined with the butter. Continue to beat until the mixture lightens in color and consistency. This process is called creaming. Creaming incorporates tiny air bubbles into the dough, helping to make the cookies light and tender when you bite into them. Scrape the side of the bowl as needed to make the mixture uniform.
• (9) Beat in the eggs. If the recipe calls for more than one, add eggs one at a time, and beat on medium speed after each addition until all of the streaks of egg have disappeared. Add the extracts after the eggs have been blended with the creamed mixture.
• Chefs at America's Test Kitchen recommend a 10-minute rest at this point. Their idea is to let the sugar slowly dissolve into the liquids before adding the flour or any other ingredients, a process that usually takes as long as a coffee break. This dissolved sugar caramelizes more quickly and easily in the heat of the oven, giving cookies a better texture and deeper caramel flavor.
• (10) Wisk the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. Sprinkle the salt and baking soda evenly over the top of the flour, and then combine with a wire whisk.
• (11) The final stage of making cookie dough involves stirring flour, or a flour mixture, into wet ingredients. Start with a small portion of the flour at the start of the mix. Stir in a little flour at a time. Do not to overmix; what it means is that you should just do the minimum amount of mixing necessary to make a uniform dough. A good rule of thumb is to stop mixing when no streaks of flour remain in your mixing bowl, or if you're going to be adding chocolate chips or nuts into your mix, you can stop when a few small streaks of flour remain, since you're going to give the mixture a few extra turns when you stir in your add-ins.
• (12) Chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, other "add ins" and, sometimes oats, are added last. Once dry ingredients have been added, don't beat vigorously or overmix. Overmixing can result in tough cookies.
• (13) A little trick used in cookie baking is to chill the cookie dough before you bake it. This allows the batter to develop better flavor in the final product. Chill the dough for at least one hour or up to 48 hours in the refrigerator. When ready to cook the cookies, remove from the refrigerator and turn on the oven.
• (14) Use a #50 scoop to place 1½ tablespoon size balls of dough on a parchment lined baking sheet. Dough balls should have 2" between them. Roll dough in your hands, and then slightly elongate them for puffier cookies.
• (15) Here are some easy ways to tell when cookies are done. Check cookies 1 minute before the minimum baking time. Even 1 minute can make a difference. Continue checking them every minute until done. If you want soft and chewy cookies, take them out on the early side; for crispier cookies, bake a little longer, being careful not to burn them. Thick or moist cookies are done when pressed lightly and leave a slight imprint. Thin, crispy ones are done when firm to touch and slightly golden around edges. The best advice here is to bake a test cookie to get it right before committing to an entire sheet of cookies.
• (16) For chewy cookies, allow them to cool on the pan for 3 to 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. For crispier cookies, remove cookies immediately or let them cool for one minute on the baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack. Remove cookies from the sheets with a metal pancake turner to a wire rack.
• (17) If cookies last long enough to take them off the cooling rack, here are some tips for keeping them at their fresh-from-the-oven best.
• Cookie jars are only for short-term storage.
• Store different kinds of cookies in separate containers.
• Store soft cookies in a container with a tight-fitting cover.
• Store crisp cookies in a container with a loose-fitting cover.