How to: Bake Tempting Holiday Treats

Wracked with anxiety over your holiday baking?  Sure your cookies won’t measure up at the office party? Well, stop second-guessing yourself and get back in the kitchen armed with tips and solutions from The Baking Answer Book by Lauren Chattman.

Q: I’ve underbaked my chocolate chip cookies, but now they are cooled, I realize they are way too soft. Can I return them to the oven at this point?

Absolutely. Drop cookies like these can be crisped up in the oven with a minute or two of additional baking, even after they’ve cooled.

Q. My recipe calls for softened butter. Should my eggs be at room temperature too?

Experienced cake bakers are careful to bring all liquid ingredients, including eggs, to room temperature along with their butter. Room temperature eggs are just as important when making cookie dough. Even if your butter is properly softened and creamed to a light fluffy state with the sugar, your batter will curdle if you then add very cold eggs. Remove your eggs from the refrigerator when you remove your butter. Or bring them to room temperature by placing them in a bowl of hot tap water for 5 minutes.

Q. The pastry crusts of my lemon bars and pecan bars are always a little oily rather than moist and crumbly. What am I doing wrong?

If you are melting butter to make these crusts, make sure to cool it before stirring it into the dry ingredients to avoid oiliness. If you are mixing solid butter with dry ingredients, your butter may be too soft and warm. In either case, if your crust looks shiny and oily before you bake it, put the pan into the freezer for 5 minutes to let the butter solidify.

Q. Are there tricks to getting evenly shaped slice-and-bake cookies?

When you are ready to cut, remember to rotate the log of dough often, so that one side doesn’t become flattened by the repeated pressure of the knife.

Q. Are there secrets to better-looking bar cookies?

I often line my baking pan with nonstick aluminum foil before filling it with cookie dough. So instead of having to dig out that first brownie with a spatula (and probably destroying it in the process), I just lift the foil from the pan when the cookies are cooled and slice them into neat squares.

The best bar cookies are slightly underbaked in the center. If they’re not, then the bars closest to the edge of the pan will definitely be overbaked. But underbaked bars are very soft and can crumble when cut. To make neat squares, freeze the cooled but uncut cookies for 15 minutes to firm them up and then cut straight down with a sharp chef’s knife rather than dragging the knife across bars.

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