Culinary School Lesson: Test Cookie

In my “What I Learned in Culinary School” series, I’ll be sharing tips and tricks that I learned from two years of working with some of the country’s best chefs. This will include big things like learning to work efficiently, and small things like how to cook bacon perfectly. All of them will be applicable to your home kitchen, making you a faster, better, and more confident cook.

 

We baked a lot of cookies in my Baking class. And I mean a lot. One lesson that was stressed was baking off a “test cookie” first, before you bake the entire batch. This is important when you’re experimenting with new recipes, making cookies for a special event, using expensive ingredients, or just any time that you really don’t want to ruin a whole batch of cookies. I was required to bake a test cookie for pretty much every batch you see here.

Culinary School Lesson: Test Cookie. The one most important tip to make perfect cookies, every time! | foxeslovelemons.com

Whip up your batter and then plop just one cookie on a baking sheet and throw it in the oven. Watch it carefully, and when it’s done, evaluate it for texture and flavor. If something’s amiss, now is the time to try to fix it!

Now, most of the time, the problem will be that your cookies are spreading too much. I think it’s happened to everyone – you think you’re going to get thick, chewy cookies, but when they come out of the oven, they’re spread out into greasy, crispy puddles. Gross.

The main causes of cookie spread are:

  • Sugar content of batter is too high
  • Too much leavening agent
  • Over-creaming (cream the fat and sugar together only until it resembles a paste)
  • Oven temperature too low
  • Liquid content of batter is too high
  • Too much pan grease
While it can be somewhat difficult to figure out which of these problems is your culprit, you can usually begin to narrow it down by thinking about your recipe and how you are baking. Search the internet for similar recipes from reputable sources and compare them to yours – what’s their oven temp? How much sugar are they using?

 

If you run into any of these problems, the fix is fairly simple for most of them – just do the opposite! Use less pan grease, add more solids or crank up the oven temp. However, if your sugar content is too high or you’ve added too much leavener, that’s a bit more tricky. You could try making another half batch of your recipe, cutting back on the sugar or leavener in that batch, and then stirring that into your original batch of batter. Bake another test cookie and see if it helps. Sometimes, it’s worth a shot!

 

What is your favorite tip for baking the perfect batch of cookies? Please leave a comment and let me know!

For more tips and tricks from my school days, be sure to check out my culinary school archive.

 

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13 comments

  1. I’m a sucker for geeky kitchen science! Baking is so much more complex than it gets credit for. I recently watched a Harvard lecture about the intricacy of baking cookies… so many factors affect every texture and taste outcome! One thing I like to keep in mind is how the type of sugar (white, brown, unrefined, fine-grain, etc.) affects the tenderness/crispiness/chewiness.

    • Great tip about the sugar types, Irina! There is SO much science that goes into baking, and honestly, I still don’t feel like I know enough about it to be 100% confident baking, by any means. But, I’m making a batch of chocolate chip cookies tonight, so let’s hope the science works out for me 🙂

  2. I’m a sucker for geeky kitchen science! Baking is so much more complex than it gets credit for. I recently watched a Harvard lecture about the intricacy of baking cookies… so many factors affect every texture and taste outcome! One thing I like to keep in mind is how the type of sugar (white, brown, unrefined, fine-grain, etc.) affects the tenderness/crispiness/chewiness.

  3. Great tip about the sugar types, Irina! There is SO much science that goes into baking, and honestly, I still don’t feel like I know enough about it to be 100% confident baking, by any means. But, I’m making a batch of chocolate chip cookies tonight, so let’s hope the science works out for me 🙂

  4. Thx for this post, I have been running in to a hard time with my choc chip cookies, which used to come out just fine all the time. At first I thought it was my butter being so soft but now I am not sure. I am using the same recipe – anyway, thx for this post!!

  5. This is so awesome! Can’t wait to read about all you’ve learned and great tips!

  6. This is so awesome! Can’t wait to read about all you’ve learned and great tips!

  7. I need to print this post out. What a great guide about cookie fails. I just baked over 200 cookies for my little sister’s wedding (she wanted them for her candy bar for guests to bring home). I used two recipes that I’ve made before and one new one (brave, or stupid, whichever way you want to look at it). I baked them all at my friend’s catering company and unfortunately, they were a lot drier than I anticipated. My chef friend said I probably didn’t use enough fat or liquid and he said that they test their baked goods A LOT before settling on a winning recipe. Sigh. Oh well, the cookies tasted better the day after baking and I think the guests were happy with them. The next time I attempt this, I’ll message you for some much needed tips!

    • Hmm – did you convert the recipe from a small batch to a larger batch? Because that’s where things go wrong a lot of times. Even if you carefully measure or scale, large batches of cookies just don’t work the same way smaller batches do. It totally requires a whole new level of recipe testing to make large batches.

      So glad your cookies tasted good the next day, though. I’ve had that happen, too, and it’s so weird. Like, how do they taste BETTER the second day? But sometimes, they do!

      Oh, and I’m like you – even though I know you’re not supposed to “try” recipes for the first time for a special event, it’s pretty much all I do. I’ll need 25 lifetimes to try all of the recipes I want to try, so I don’t have enough time NOT to try new recipes, no matter the event. haha.

  8. I need to print this post out. What a great guide about cookie fails. I just baked over 200 cookies for my little sister’s wedding (she wanted them for her candy bar for guests to bring home). I used two recipes that I’ve made before and one new one (brave, or stupid, whichever way you want to look at it). I baked them all at my friend’s catering company and unfortunately, they were a lot drier than I anticipated. My chef friend said I probably didn’t use enough fat or liquid and he said that they test their baked goods A LOT before settling on a winning recipe. Sigh. Oh well, the cookies tasted better the day after baking and I think the guests were happy with them. The next time I attempt this, I’ll message you for some much needed tips!

  9. Hmm – did you convert the recipe from a small batch to a larger batch? Because that’s where things go wrong a lot of times. Even if you carefully measure or scale, large batches of cookies just don’t work the same way smaller batches do. It totally requires a whole new level of recipe testing to make large batches.

    So glad your cookies tasted good the next day, though. I’ve had that happen, too, and it’s so weird. Like, how do they taste BETTER the second day? But sometimes, they do!

    Oh, and I’m like you – even though I know you’re not supposed to “try” recipes for the first time for a special event, it’s pretty much all I do. I’ll need 25 lifetimes to try all of the recipes I want to try, so I don’t have enough time NOT to try new recipes, no matter the event. haha.

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