Hot tips for the cookie season Burning issues: Is it you or your oven? Master baker tells how to bake the best of the situation.

November 08, 1995|By Isabel Forgang | Isabel Forgang,NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Nick Malgieri, director of the baking program at Peter Kump's Cooking School and author of the just-published "How to Bake" (HarperCollins. $35), especially loves cookie making at holiday time and for the same reasons that nonprofessionals do.

Partly, he says, it's because of the "holiday" scent that perfumes the air while cookies are baking, and partly because they are so quick and easy to make.

While the holidays find Mr. Malgieri baking up a storm of European-inspired, elegant, butter and nut delights, his real favorites at this time of the year, he says, are the simpler shortbreads and macaroons. "I can make them in advance and always have something ready at a moment's notice," he explains. Look in Mr. Malgieri's freezer a few weeks before Christmas and you're apt to find a container filled with macaroons, while in his office, a tin of shortbreads stands at the ready on the windowsill.

If your cookies have turned out unevenly in the past, with some burned and others undercooked, it may be because your oven heats unevenly, suggests this master baker. "The most important rule for making cookies is to know your oven," insists Mr. Malgieri.

To find out if you have any hot spots, butter and flour a cookie sheet and put it in a 350-degree oven, he says. Check it in 5 to 10 minutes to see if any area of the pan gets dark first. You can compensate for hot spots by rotating the pans midway through the baking. Move them from front to back and from one shelf to the other.

Mr. Malgieri prefers heavy aluminum pans or insulated cookie sheets. If you have thin cookie pans, double them up, he suggests. "This way the bottom layer absorbs the greater amount of heat and the layer above, with the cookies, won't get overly hot and burn the baked goods," he explains.

There's no need to grease and flour cookie pans, either, he says. Mr. Malgieri saves time by lining pans with parchment paper or foil. And you can reuse the parchment for the second batch, he says. If you are baking cookies that need to spread out a lot, butter the parchment, then drop the dough onto the paper, he says. It's easier to remove the paper from the pan to let cookies cool, rather than handle fragile, individual cookies this way, he points out.

Using a pastry bag to pipe out dough is one thing that novice bakers are wary of. The trick, says Mr. Malgieri, is to use just one hand, not two, for even pressure and to guide the pastry bag with the index finger of your other hand. "If you can write, you can pipe really well," he says. If you don't have a canvas pastry bag, improvise with a sturdy plastic bag, cutting a corner of the bag for the pastry tube. The following cookies can also be made with a cookie press, notes Mr. Malgieri.

Almond butter spritz cookies

Makes about 72 2-inch cookies

1/4 pound almond paste

1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

1/2 cup eggs (2 large eggs and 1 yolk, usually)

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3 cups sifted cake flour

Set racks on the top and lower thirds of the oven and heat to 325 degrees. Line cookie sheets or jellyroll pans with parchment paper or foil.

In a bowl, soften almond paste with confectioners' sugar and half the eggs. Beat in butter gradually, then gradually add remaining eggs. Cream all ingredients until light, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add the flour all at once; mix until well blended. Do not overmix.

Fill pastry bag. Pipe half-inch shapes onto prepared pans with a half-inch star tube. Bake about 15 minutes, until golden and firm. Cool cookies on the pans.

Variations: Use different tube shapes and decorate dough with pieces of candied fruit, inverted chocolate chips or nuts and then bake. Indent the center of a star shape and fill it with thick jam before baking, or indent, bake empty and fill with melted chocolate or reduced jam (to reduce jam, simmer it for a few moments to reduce the liquid content somewhat) after baking. Also, try dipping cookie edges in melted chocolate after baking, then in white chocolate shavings, chopped blanched pistachios, or crushed toasted sliced almonds.

A great make-ahead cookie, this Swiss confection will last, and even improve, if kept a month or more in a sealed container.

Bernese licks

Makes 42 to 48 cookies

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

2 cups (10 to 11 ounces) whole unblanched hazelnuts

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/4 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

confectioners' sugar for finishing

Combine honey, sugars, eggs and zest in a heat-proof mixing bowl and whisk over a pan of simmering water until lukewarm. Grind hazelnuts in a food processor and stir into egg mixture. Combine remaining ingredients and stir in to form a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and cover with a towel. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Roll dough 1/4 -inch thick and cut with rectangular, heart or holiday-shaped cutters. Place cookies on pans lined with parchment or foil and allow to dry at room temperature, about 1 hour.

Set racks at the middle and upper third of the oven and heat oven to 325 degrees. Bake cookies for about 20 minutes, until they are no longer shiny-looking and beginning to become firm. Cool cookies on pans, then dust lightly with confectioners' sugar.

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