Let’s start with a piece of information that I hope you know already, but that you may not: cookies are the easiest thing to bake.
There are baking people out there who might argue with me, but what they are really trying to say to you is that it is hard to bake a GREAT batch of cookies, and that may be true. What is not hard is baking a perfectly fine batch of cookies that would all get eaten at an IRL party, and will all get eaten by you and your roommates within the next two days.
I’m not sure when I figured this out. I can tell you the following food-based memories that may or may not have paved the road:
- In second grade, my friend Bonnie and I made disgusting smoothies in the blender together and pretended they were not disgusting, and that we were geniuses. Bonnie was my best friend, and I knew her address by heart, and still do. Isn’t it annoying how you pick some things to memorize when you’re in second grade, and THOSE are the things that stick in your mind, over more helpful facts that might pop up at a trivia night? When I say “disgusting,” I mean that we put hot sauce and mustard and cottage cheese in the blender and other stuff. We drank tiny cups of it and probably my mom had to clean all of this up. I imagine she thought, “I hope that this isn’t one of those ages that is supposed to be a good age, because all this creativity is messy and not even a little bit cute.”
- The first recipe I actually followed was from a cookbook or a newspaper because the internet didn’t exist, and it was for corn bread.
- I became a vegan when I was 16, and that affected me a lot. I bought Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s first cookbook (titled Vegan With A Vengeance and still in use at my house), and learned how to make everything in there.
- Among the recipes in there are chocolate chip cookies. I am not sure that I made chocolate chip cookies before this. I do know that they were perfectly fine chocolate chip cookies, and if you can make a batch of VEGAN cookies in the year 2002 that are palatable, it should be clear that cookies are pretty fucking easy. I mention the year because this was at the very beginning of the revelation that vegan food didn’t have to be the worst, and that you weren’t required by vegan law to put soft tofu in everything you made, but there were still zero fake meats at any non-specialty grocery store, even in Portland. To make a thing like chocolate chip cookies vegan seemed blasphemous and impossible at this time. The 2002 chocolate chip cookies had canola oil in place of butter and called for an impossible-to-find brand of chocolate chips made without whey. But I found accidentally dairy-free chocolate chips at Fred Meyer, and thought, “These are not bad cookies. They really are not.”
Isa (we are on a first name basis, I think — when Luke and I went to Omaha for three nights we ate at her fancy restaurant FOUR TIMES, so I’m a superfan) wrote a cookie cookbook in 2009. I bought it as soon as I could get my hands on it. This was the follow-up to a quirky cupcake cookbook that I thought was just OK, because I thought cupcakes in general were just OK, and I still do.
But later, after that show ended, I tried to produce other live shows. I didn’t want to make cookies for these other shows, because that felt like stealing an idea from the storytelling show, and I was trying to be independent. I bought snacks for the new shows. I made dips. But nothing was the same as the cookies, which were handed out at the end of the storytelling show like a little bonus present. I was unwilling to bake anything that required more work than cookies for any of my subsequent live shows, and for this reason (and others, perhaps) all the subsequent shows failed.
I hope you’ve been convinced that it’s easy and worthwhile to make cookies. Now that you believe me, I will make a list of things to know when you are making cookies in order to ensure that they are, indeed, good cookies, and not just OK ones. I am not an expert, but I make cookies probably at least once a week, and so I do know some things. I’ve learned many of these lessons the hard way.
- For the love of God, don’t use canola oil instead of butter. It’s fine that Isa thought that was fine in the early aughts, but it is absolutely not fine in 2020. We have fake butter now. The fake butter we have is GOOD. It can also be found cheap! Just, get the fake butter. Or the real butter, if you have no problem with butter. Which you probably don’t. I have been accused of being a monster for being against butter.
- The butter should be softened. This does not mean that it should be warm. Definitely opt for cold butter over hot butter. Cold is wrong, too; you want it SOFTENED, but don’t achieve the softness in the microwave or on the stove. Just let it sit out for a spell. Or put it in a bag and place it in your armpit. Ideally, your kitchen is sort of cold and you have left the butter out for a while. That’s the kind of butter you want.
- You CAN “brown” the butter, but please search specifically for a brown butter recipe, and then make sure to tell everyone it’s a brown butter recipe because the browning of the butter, in my opinion, does not make the cookies taste any better; however, the knowledge that these are called brown butter cookies, which, let’s admit, sounds delicious, will make them taste better.
- Under-bake the cookies. Do not bake them perfectly so they’re just beginning to turn brown. Cook them a full two minutes less than you think you should. You’ll pull them out and question this advice and you might think they are still raw, but they aren’t. In 20 minutes you’ll understand why I told you to do this. Cookies LIE TO YOU when they’re still in the oven and wobbly.
- Or, you can pull them out two minutes early and then whack the cookie sheet against a table to make them fall flat really fast, and then bake them for one more minute. This makes you seem like a foodie, but it is loud and will alarm the people you live with, as well as your cats.
- Please wait for cookies to cool all the way before you put icing on them. Otherwise, you will have mascara-in-the-rain cookies, which will taste fine but look like they were dumped on prom night.
- Know some things about your oven. This is good advice in general! Be aware if it is too hot or too cool and adjust accordingly. Apparently, you can take the temperature of your oven with an oven thermometer, but I’ve not done this. I have done the burn-bread-several-times method of figuring out how my oven works.
- Crush up fancy chocolate bars instead of using chocolate chips.
- I recently invested in a little canister of Fleur de Sel salt — large flake sea salt that is I guess from France — and that was a good thing to buy for cookies. You can put a little bit of it on top of any cookie in order to elevate it. You probably could elevate a Chips Ahoy this way.
- If you’re not using parchment paper already, what is wrong with you?
- You may eat ONE taste of dough. ONE. You can have it at the very beginning, where it’s just butter and sugar creamed together (because that’s the best part and we all understand this), or you can wait until the end when everything has reached its final dough state, but you may only have ONE. This is how you ensure that you will want to actually eat one of the cookies you’ve made after they come out of the oven. You will accidentally eat four cookies worth of dough before you know it, and you’ll never be able to love your creations as much because of this. I put on Crest Whitestrips while baking to avoid eating the dough. This works, and makes me feel like the worst kind of woman, but works.