How to Make Perfect Sugar Cookies
I received an email from Kathy about preparing the "perfect" sugar cookie. She told me she made two batches of sugar cookie dough using the same recipe, and one batch turned out perfect while the other "was puffy and lost shape."
Kathy wanted to know why this happened, so I contacted my friend Chef Jennifer Field, a graduate of the Orlando Culinary Academy, for some help since I'm not much of a baker. Jennifer had a bunch of questions that were answered in Kathy's following email. Here is what she said,
The batches were made and cooked on different days. The second batch was refrigerated for a couple of days (at least). The recipe was the same. However, I may have beat my shortening, sugar, and egg mixture longer the second time. Temp the same.
Kathy's Definition of the Perfect Sugar Cookie
My definition of a perfect sugar cookie is light and a little crisp, with the buttery icing softening it slightly. I'm not into a fluffy, cakey sugar cookie.
I definitely want one that will hold the shape and design of my cutter. For example, I want to make snowflake-shaped cookies at Christmas and my cutter has little cutouts you can add for more detail.
This is the recipe I used:
Sugar Cookie Recipe
- Bake at 325° F in a convection oven.
Chef Jennifer Field's Recommendations
With these facts in hand, Chef Jennifer could point out why the second batch did not turn out perfect and offer some changes to Kathy's recipe for future cookies. Here is what she said,
"What immediately jumps out at me is the refrigeration time for the second batch of cookies. I see that your leavener was baking soda. Baking soda in a baked good only has one chemical reaction: it fizzes and bubbles when it gets wet. This, of course, happened when you first mixed your ingredients together. Since you baked your first batch immediately, the soda did its job correctly.
The chemical reaction ceased as your dough for the second batch chilled in the fridge. Your rise was probably uneven because you beat more air into the dough (you said your mixing time was longer the second time) so even though the soda had fizzled by the time you baked, you still had lots of little air bubbles that were probably not evenly distributed in your dough, causing a wonky rise.
The recipe called for one teaspoon each of soda and cream of tartar. It sounds like an old recipe. Try substituting double-acting baking powder next time. The double-acting powder has two chemical reactions: one when it gets wet and a second when it gets hot. So, even if you let your dough hang out in the fridge and lose the first reaction over time, you'll still get a reasonably even second-leavening boost when you put your dough in the oven.
Since you're also interested in your cookie holding a fairly detailed shape after baking, I suggest shortening instead of the oil. Since oil is liquid at room temperature and when heated, cookies will tend to spread a bit. Shortening, being a solid at room temperature and a relatively slow melter, will yield a cookie with less spread.
I hope this helped! Good luck with your baking.
Chef Jenni Field
Pastry Sous Chef
P.S. Your idea of a perfect sugar cookie made me drool. Just a little. :-)"
Me too! - RG
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