A jar full of crumbly, crisp, buttery cookies brings tidings of great joy!
There is something comforting and wholesome about a jar of cookies on a kitchen shelf. Placed just within reach of hungry hands they spell motherly love, constancy and sweet satisfaction.
Whether store- bought or home-made, there is something intrinsically pleasurable about the crisp crunch or soft, chewy crumble as you bite into a sweet or savoury cookie.
The word cookie comes from koekjes or little cakes, as the Dutch referred to the small, sweet flat baked confections. It is used mainly in America, while the rest of the world refers to them as biscuits. Whatever you call them the crunchy sweet, baked goodies are universally beloved treat.
Sugar and Spice and all things nice
To make the perfect cookie you need just a few basic ingredients – flour, butter, milk or eggs and sugar for sweet cookies and salt for savoury ones. You then add spices or essences for flavour, dried fruit nuts, chocolate chips or cheese for texture and some jam or creamy icing to sandwich or decorate them. And you have yourself a jar or tin full of delectable morsels on your shelf.
Flour: Plain flour produces a light texture while whole grain flours produce denser cookies. Too much flour can make your cookies dry and hard, so measure the flour carefully.
Fat: Butter gives cookies a wonderful aroma and flavour. However, some cookies call for margarine or shortening (hydrogenated vegetable fat) as they make crisper, lighter cookies. Use unsalted butter, which should be at room temperature as it is usually creamed with the sugar.
Sugar: Sugar is what makes a cookie tender: the more sugar, the more tender the cookie. And the finer the sugar the more the cookie will spread. Caster sugar is best for the creaming method as it dissolves easily. Use granulated sugar for rubbed in cookie dough. Use brown sugar or light corn syrup for a richer flavour and darker colour.
Eggs: Eggs provide richness, flavour and bind the cookie dough. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature as eggs which are too cold will not mix in properly and mar the texture of the cookie.
Liquids: Milk or water are usually the liquids of choice though cream can also be added for a richer cookie dough. Add just enough to bind depending on the type of flour used. Milk can be replaced by egg and vice versa.
Raising agents: Baking powder and bicarbonate of soda are added to cookies to increase their spread and make them lighter. Sift them with the flour so they mix evenly throughout the dough.
Other ingredients: Nuts, chocolate chips, dried and glazed fruits, grated cheese, spices like cinnamon, chilli powder, cumin and caraway seeds add texture and flavour. Mix in the ground spices and flavourings with the flour and add the chunkier ingredients at the end.
Rolled cookies are perfect for cutting out in shapes. Cookie cutters are available in many interesting shapes and sizes to suit every occasion. If you want a particular shape that you do not have a cutter for, make a template of the design by drawing it on a stiff piece of board and cutting it out. Place the template on the rolled out dough and cut around the edges with the point of a knife.
Rolled cookies lend themselves to be decorated with icing and candy. Colour the icing with liquid food colours or pastes. Add the colours drop by drop so you can control the lightness or depth of colour you desire. You can paint on the icing with a clean paint brush to fill out the cookies and outline them using a piping bag with a fine icing nozzle. Decorate the cookies using different shaped nozzles depending on the design you want to create. You can also add a few drops of colour to the dough for colourful cookies which you can then ice in complementing shades.
To make an icing of piping consistency so you can decorate cookies with squiggles and doodles, lines and checks, beat together 2 cups icing sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 1 large egg white till the icing is stiff and can be piped. Add a few drops of colour and fill into a piping bag and pipe designs on the cookies.
Remember to let the cookies cool completely after baking before icing them or they will get soggy.
Festivals are the perfect occasion to make special cookies. The scent of vanilla, sugar, butter and spices of freshly baked cookies perfumes the air and creates a warm, welcoming atmosphere full of merriment and good cheer. Making cookies is also the perfect holiday and festive activity that involves the whole family, especially children.
Kids will have a fun time stamping out cookies, painting and decorating them. Some cookies even make lovely ornaments which can be hung on a Christmas tree or threaded with ribbon to make welcome garlands or decorations. Home-made cookies packed in gift boxes are the perfect gift for family and friends.
This festive season let their sweet, buttery goodness bring you and your family the comfort and joy of knowing that with cookies in the cookie jar, all is well with the world.
– Rita D’Souza
Cookies are classified based on the method of mixing and shaping used.
- Rolled Cookies are made by rolling out chilled dough with a rolling pin and then cut into shapes with a knife, pastry wheel or cookie cutters (see Christmas Cookies).
- Moulded Cookies are shaped by hand into rings, balls or other shapes and baked. Some are then decorated by fork impressions (see recipe for Chocolate Crackles)
- Pressed Cookies are given different shapes by forcing the dough out through a special cookie press or icing bag with different nozzles or onto a cookie sheet to form different shapes.
- Bar Cookies are rectangular or square cookies prepared by pressing the dough into a rectangular or square pan, baked and then cut into the desired shapes. (see recipe for Chocolate Chip Bars)
- Drop cookies are made by dropping small amounts of dough from a spoon onto a baking tray.
- Refrigerator Cookies are prepared by slicing long rolls of chilled dough. The dough is ideal for freezing.
To make the perfect cookie
Mixing and baking cookies require some amount of care and precision. The way the cookie crumbles literally tells you if the ingredients are in the right proportions and how gently you have handled your cookie dough.
- Use only the best quality of ingredients
- Measure or weigh all the ingredients exactly. Use a weighing scale or measuring cups, tablespoons and teaspoons.
- Follow one set of measures for the whole recipe e.g. weight in ounces or grams or volume in cups.
- Chill the dough before rolling out or shaping.
- Use the baking temperatures and time recommended in the recipe.