Cookie Methodology 1 – Great Ku-Ki-Do
Ingredients vary by recipe but the procedure for cookie dough is basically the same whether you’re making chocolate chip, snicker doodles or even roll-out sugar cookies.
The first step is to cream the butter and sugar – which just means mixing them together. However, the state of the butter makes a big difference in outcome.
The Butter: It has to be the real thing and FIRM! I think that stiff butter is one of the biggest factors in avoiding flabby cookies that resemble pancakes. Butter in the proper state for cookies should barely give when you press it with your finger and should try hard to hold its shape, even when it meets with the blade of your real mixer. I pull sticks straight out of the fridge and microwave them in their wrappers at 50% power for approximately 10 seconds per stick. Obviously, microwaves differ but it’s better to error with butter that’s too cold. It may hold out for a few extra seconds but the mixer will eventually win.
(Note: If you’re harboring traitorous thoughts of substitutions at this point, it’s time for you to find a new Ku-Ki-Do master. Margarine is an atrocity. Butter flavored Crisco can fill a gap if you’re a little short on butter, but only in extreme emergencies and you’ll have to live with the waxy consequences. Don’t even talk to me about applesauce unless it’s September or we’re discussing muffins.)
Balanced Sugars: Don’t skimp! These are cookies after all. Try to use the right kind and amount of brown sugar. It’s been my experience that there’s a texture difference based on the combination of sugars. The absence of brown sugar when it’s called for seems to lead to a brittle texture. I’m okay with the texture difference in some cookies, but in others, you need to stay on the chewy end of the spectrum and leaving out that hint of molasses that comes with the brown sugar zaps the chewiness.
When the butter is stiff enough, the mixture of butter and sugar should turn into a big lump that doesn’t really look “creamy” at all. (I recommend a little taste at this point! You never know when the simple mixture of butter and sugar will take on new complexities and you wouldn’t want to miss it.)
Add the Eggs: The bigger the better! If you don’t have large or extra large eggs, then add an extra white from a third egg for every two of a smaller size. Eggs have a big impact on texture and density – they help with fluff. (BTW: cage-free organic works best for the chickens involved.)
Once the eggs are mixed in with the butter and sugar, you finally achieve a texture that I would consider “creamy”.
Time for the Dry Ingredient Dump: I know this is where I’m supposed to say something about sifting, and leveling and gradually adding as you go, but those of you who know me know better! I plunge the measuring cup down into the flour bin, scoop out a heaping pile then jiggle the contents until it levels itself (more or less). Then I dump it in the bowl, and go for the next cup. Half-cups are totally eyeballed and it all goes into the bowl in one big pile. I just drop the salt, baking soda, etc… in on top.
Hint: Here’s where the kitchen can get really messy. Real mixers have an impressive dust flinging radius so I usually use a technique that I picked up from my “bread
sewing machine”, which is to pull the start lever forward for a second, then quickly turn it back off so that the blade only makes about half a turn. I do this several times until the flour is starting to work into the cream, then I go to longer bursts and eventually, when the flour shower danger has passed, let it run. Another method that works equally well is to drape a towel over the whole project and let the dust billow under the makeshift tent until it all settles down.
Perfect Dough Consistency: Once you mix in the dry ingredients, the dough should pull itself into a chunk of its own and give up clinging to the security of the bowl. If all of the ingredients are mixed and it’s still sticky, then gradually add more flour until it’s right… UNLESS… you didn’t follow the directions about keeping the butter stiff. If your butter started out too soft, then get ready for cookie flavored pancakes.