The name is the first thing I notice on a new cookie recipe. Descriptive flavors entice me, especially if it is unusual. Flavors like coffee or rosemary interest me more than a sugar cookie. Not to say that you can’t have a lot of fun flavoring up a plain sugar cookie with some interesting spices.
I like to read through the list of ingredients. If the recipe asks for something that I don’t have on hand, I ask myself whether it is worth getting. I do try to see if I can make a substitution. I’ve been known to exchange cottage cheese for sour cream to cut back on the fat. I also like to make spice or extract substitutions. With cookies involving fruit I’ll use one berry for another or use figs instead of dates to avoid running to the store. You can create a lot of happy accidents with well-placed substitutions.
If I don’t understand the ingredient, I immediately dislike the recipe. For example, a recipe calling for caster sugar, could just as easily say very fine sugar or instruct you to grind up some regular sugar in your food processor. I think of these recipes as a bit snobby. (Caster sugar is used because it dissolves faster and more thoroughly.)
On the other hand, a recipe that asks for corn syrup or a box of cake mix or a can of frosting isn’t likely to make the grade either. One reason I bake is to avoid man-made chemicals and overly sweet recipes. If there is a gooey icing involved, then I know they are selling sugar over any real flavor.
Ingredients aren’t the only reason to select a cookie or bar recipe. I also like to read how long it takes to bake. Cookies that take longer than 20 minutes or bars that take longer than 35 minutes usually don’t make the grade. I don’t like using up a lot of electricity for a single recipe, nor do I like to spend a lot of time on just one item.
If the instructions are several pages long, I know I’m in trouble. A cookie most often involves creaming some form of sugar with some form of fat and then adding flour, flavoring and nuts or fruit. I used to avoid cookies that said, “chill overnight.” Now I understand that chilling allows the flavorings to spread throughout the dough and solidify it for better baking results. I often make several recipes at once (since the ingredients are so similar) and bake them the next day. Or I will make larger quantities and freeze some of the batter for later use.
Like with anything, there are exceptions. I make cutout cookies at Christmas and over the years I’ve collected more do-dads for decorating than I’ll ever use up. Decorating takes time and some of that sugary icing, but it’s just once a year and it looks so festive. Finding a good cutout cookie can be challenging.
So the next time you go rummaging around in your cookbook or go browsing online for a good cookie recipe, ask yourself these questions. Do the ingredients include flavors (other than sugar) that you like? Is it worth going to the store to get special ingredients? Are you truly baking from scratch or just adding more ingredients to a cake mix? Are the instructions easy? How long does it need to bake? And does it require any special pans or tools you may not have? The answers will help you focus on flavor, healthier choices and convenience.
Ultimately, it is the taste of the cookie that determines whether the recipe is a keeper. Don’t forget to jot down those that you like, not only for their flavor, but for their ease of use.