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Why do my cookies look like this?

I get all kinds of texts from all kinds of people wanting me to troubleshoot cookie failures. I am happy to help.This question is frequently asked and the answer is simple. These cookies are undercooked. Usually the person inquiring defends that with, "the recipe said 8 minutes and I used a timer." This is when experience comes into play.

Light colored cookies with dark speckles typically indicates that the cookies are underbaked. You can stick the stone back in the oven for another few minutes and they should finish baking. So how do you know when to bake longer than the recipe calls for? It helps if you have a thermometer in your oven. All ovens are different. Some are convection, some are standard, some are tricked out with easy-glide shelves and some are 30 years old and marginally accurate. All you really know is that it is hot in there. You don't really know if your oven is five degrees or fifty degrees off. One of the easiest and cheapest things to fix is the temperature of your oven. Get a thermometer for $5 at the grocery store or Walmart. Put it in the oven and set the oven to 350. When you hear the chime, check the thermometer. Most people believe that it is fully preheated when the oven chimes but in reality, it just means that it is hot. Wait about fifteen minutes and check the thermometer again. Rarely does it say it is 350 degrees. If it does, go you. But if it doesn't you can easily adjust your baking time; Ultimately, you want to be able to recognize when your cookies are done. That depends on your preference. I like mine barely brown around the edges because I prefer crispy cookies. However, most of my customers want totally pale cookies with no browning. Once you drop the anchor on what you prefer, you will learn to recognize when they are ready, with or without a timer.

Another question I frequently get in a class full of beginners is, "how do I know when to use convection?" Sometimes you move into a house that has a convection oven and you don't know enough about it to make it really work for you. If you look in the back of your oven and there is a fan that is circulating air, you have a convection oven. The fan is not for the purpose of cooling but for circulating the air. This is great for preventing hot spots in an oven. If you have convection, use it. It bakes cookies more evenly. If you don't have a convection, don't despair; you can make perfectly great cookies in a standard oven. I promise you, your Grandma made every divine pound cake and pie without the benefit of circulating air. When I bought my oven, the whippersnapper selling it me told me that convection bakes faster. Bless his heart; he is no baker and I was not in the mood to teach him. I have a double oven. The top one is convection and the bottom one is standard. It is my experience that I can put cookies in both ovens at the same time and the standard ones are done a minute or so before the top oven.

When convection ovens were new, they told you when you purchased it to reduce the heat by twenty five degrees. People didn't do it and consequently, they didn't like the results of having the circulating air because it seemed to get done too quickly. So, in the generation of convections ovens that followed, the oven self-adjusts. If you dial it to 350, it will really only go up to 325. That does not mean that your oven is inaccurate. It just means that the manufacturers are trying to make the process foolproof. When I set my convection oven on 350, I know that it heats up to 325 because there is a thermometer verifying the temperature in there. Because I teach a lot of classes in a lot of different kitchens, I am acutely aware of the variation between ovens. That little thermometer is the great equalizer.

Have you ever read a recipe that tells you at 12 minutes to turn the pan around? Well that is probably a pretty old recipe and it was written by someone who had a hot spot in her oven and that little tip was her way of evenly baking the pan of cookies. For centuries, bakers have been devising little tricks for producing perfectly baked goods. Whether you have a standard or convection oven, a tricked out Mac Daddy shiny silver oven with easy glide shelves, or a thirty year old faithful oven, you can still produce beautiful cookies. Just know what "done" looks like, and by all means, get you a thermometer!


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