Cookie Clinic

INGREDIENTS: We Need to Keep Sifting . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If a recipe calls for butter softened to room temperature, should the other ingredients be the same temperature as well?

NICK M.: Yes. Adding cold ingredients to the butter will make it firm up again and possibly make the dough or batter separate.

Why do I have to sift powdered cocoa and confectioners' sugar?

NICK M.: To avoid lumps. You don't have to use a sifter; try a strainer.

Why do some cookies puff up and then fall flat?

NICK M.: Some drop cookies that contain baking powder and/or baking soda may have been overmixed; too much air in the dough will make the cookies rise too much, then fall. For cookie doughs with those ingredients, mix just until they are smooth for best results.

Are "just whites" the same as meringue powder?

RAEANNE H.: No. If you want to use dried egg whites, you must reconstitute them and use them with a royal icing recipe that calls for egg whites.

I've got a cookie recipe that calls for "freshly grated orange peel." Can I peel some today (since I have the oranges now) and then freeze it until I need it, or is that a big no-no?

MARCY G.: Citrus zest freezes really well. Zest it in long strips, toss with a touch of sugar and freeze. Then mince up just before using in the recipe. The longer strips keep better (and will take in fewer odors from freezer), and when you mince before baking, the release of the citrus oils is better.

I don't have a rolling pin and haven't made any sugar, gingerbread or other rolled-dough cookies. Can I use something else?

MARCY G.: A wine bottle is good for most cookies. To roll the dough for a gingerbread house, unscrew a wooden broom handle (clean it well) and use that. It is especially good for thin doughs (but be gentle).

Or you could press rich sugar cookie dough into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan -- about 1/4 inch thick. Brush with egg wash or milk, sprinkle on sugar and bake. When it is three-quarters of the way finished baking, slice into bars or use a cookie cutter to press out circles and return to the oven to finish baking/crisping up. You can snack on those trimmings!

How do you get the maximal flavor from citrus zest in an orange-, lemon- or lime-flavored cookie, such as a citrus shortbread or spritz or butter cookie?

MARCY G.: First, mince the zest. Then mix it into the sugar called for in the recipe. That will release the citrus oils into the sugar, whose gritty texture will do a good job of dispersing the citrus flavor and oils in the dough. Proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.

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