In my “What I Learned in Culinary School” series, I’ll be sharing tips and tricks that I learned from two years of working with some of the country’s best chefs. This will include big things like learning to work efficiently, and small things like how to cook bacon perfectly. All of them will be applicable to your home kitchen, making you a faster, better, and more confident cook.
We baked a lot of cookies in my Baking class. And I mean a lot. One lesson that was stressed was baking off a “test cookie” first, before you bake the entire batch. This is important when you’re experimenting with new recipes, making heart cookies for a special event, using expensive ingredients, or just any time that you really don’t want to ruin a whole batch of cookies. I was required to bake a test cookie for pretty much every batch you see here.

Culinary School Lesson: Test Cookie. The one most important tip to make perfect cookies, every time! |

Whip up your batter and then plop just one cookie on a baking sheet and throw it in the oven. Watch it carefully, and when it’s done, evaluate it for texture and flavor. If something’s amiss, now is the time to try to fix it!

Now, most of the time, the problem will be that your cookies are spreading too much. I think it’s happened to everyone – you think you’re going to get thick, chewy cookies, but when they come out of the oven, they’re spread out into greasy, crispy puddles. Gross.

The main causes of cookie spread are:

  • Sugar content of batter is too high
  • Too much leavening agent
  • Over-creaming (cream the fat and sugar together only until it resembles a paste)
  • Oven temperature too low
  • Liquid content of batter is too high
  • Too much pan grease
While it can be somewhat difficult to figure out which of these problems is your culprit, you can usually begin to narrow it down by thinking about your recipe and how you are baking. Search the internet for similar recipes from reputable sources and compare them to yours – what’s their oven temp? How much sugar are they using?
If you run into any of these problems, the fix is fairly simple for most of them – just do the opposite! Use less pan grease, add more solids or crank up the oven temp. However, if your sugar content is too high or you’ve added too much leavener, that’s a bit more tricky. You could try making another half batch of your recipe, cutting back on the sugar or leavener in that batch, and then stirring that into your original batch of batter. Bake another test cookie and see if it helps. Sometimes, it’s worth a shot!
What is your favorite tip for baking the perfect batch of cookies? Please leave a comment and let me know!

For more tips and tricks from my school days, be sure to check out my culinary school archive.