Fancy a Totoro cookie?
I made these for a dear friend’s daughter’s birthday party at school. Boy, am I elated when she asked if I could do up some cookies for her! I’m absolutely thankful for such supportive friends around me who give me opportunities like this to hone my baking skills. ^^
Since these were made for an order, I really didn’t want to mess it up. But I did, anyway! I overdid the round cookies and alas, I was short of 4 large totoro cookies. It was a big relief, though, that I was able to substitute each totoro with the extra round cookies that I baked. Thank you, Mona!
Having baked 3 batches of sugar cookies, I’ve compiled some tips and techniques that would help in baking your perfect sugar cookie. Have fun!
1. Many recipes advice that all ingredients should be at room temperature; but at which degree celcius room temperature exactly is? Room temperature is defined as an ambient temperature that is neither too cold or too hot, typically between 15C to 25C and an average of 20C. In Singapore, the average daytime temperature is 30C and this means that you can’t let your chilled ingredients sit out in the open for too long (especially butter) before you start preparing the dough. I let mine sit out on the kitchen countertop for 20 minutes.
- When the butter forms a slight indent when you pressed down on the center of the block, it’s ready. Most of the butter block would still feels solid while the edges are slightly softened.
- When slicing the butter into smaller chucks (I usually slice a 250g block into 8 pieces), the butter should slice off almost cleanly from the knife instead of gliding off the knife. If it glides, chill further in the refrigerator.
2. Use salted butter. I prefer using salted butter so I don’t have to worry about that 1/8 – 1/4 tsp of salt getting evenly incorporated into the butter mixture.
3. Don’t over-mix the dough once the dry ingredients are added into the wet mixture. Divide the dry ingredients into 3 additions, add 1/3 into the wet mixture and mix using the electrical mixer at the lowest speed for not more than 10 seconds. At this point, you would still see unmixed flour. Add in the next 1/3 flour and mix for another 10 seconds. Repeat for the last 1/3 flour. Stop the mixer once you noticed that the dough lifts off from the sides of the bowl.
4. Roll out the dough before chilling so that it’s convenient to cut-out cookies once chilled. This recipe yields dough that can be easily rolled out when it’s done. Roll out the dough into your desired thickness using guide sticks, books, or rolling pins attached with rolling guides. I like my cookies to be on the crispier sides so I roll them out to about 5mm (1/5in) thick and stack them in between parchment paper.
5. Chill cookie dough overnight. Do not skip this step! There had been a whole lot of research carried out on the effect that the duration of chilling cookie dough has on the aftermath and it’s everything but negative. Chilling the cookie dough overnight in the refrigerator (or up to 10 days) solidifies the fat and firms up the dough and hence results in little spread while baking. This means you get to retain the shape and imprinted designs on the cookie. Chilling also dries up the cookie dough, which in turn helps to concentrate the sugar and flavoring resulting in a chewier crispier and more flavorful cookies.
6. When chilled, transfer cookie dough together with the parchment paper it’s sitting on directly onto a baking tray. Cut cookie dough with your preferred cookie cutters (preferably of similar sizes since you’ll be baking them on the same tray). This helps to skip an additional step of transferring the cut-out dough onto the baking tray, which may distort the shape if you don’t have nimble hands. Remove the excess cookie dough from the tray and keep them aside for re-rolling. Because the chilled dough won’t spread much during baking, it’s alright to spaced the cookie cutters about 1cm apart to accommodate as many cookies as possible on a single tray.
7. When using cookie moulds where the design is embossed by pressing a plastic mould onto the cookie dough, let the chilled cookie dough sit out for about 5-7 minutes before attempting to press the mould in. If the dough is still too hard and stiff, the dough will crack while removing the mould. If the dough is too soft, the dough will get pulled out and remain stuck in the mould. Sweep some flour over the cookie dough with a brush and dust the mould in flour and press the mould in. Apply more pressure on areas with more intricate details to achieve a clear emboss. Remove mould gently bottom-up and gently wriggle it out from the dough. Each time you feel that the dough is getting too soft and doughy, chill it further before continuing.
8. If using cookie stencils, first dust stencil with flour and knock off the excess (so that it does not interfere with the design). Paint powder over the stencil and sweep off the excess entirely away from the stencil before removing from the dough. This prevents the excess powders from messing with the intended design. Use darker colored powders (i.e. dark cocoa powder, matcha powder, or purple sweet potato powder) to achieve a more defined image.
9. Chill before baking. Yes! It’s a whole lot of chilling. Unless your kitchen is air-conditioned, make sure you have a trusty refrigerator. Chill the prepared cookies for about 15 minutes to prevent spreading before baking in a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 10-12 minutes. Bake at the 2nd lowest rack (slightly below oven’s centroid) Rotate baking tray 180 degrees at the 5 minute mark to help cookies bake evenly. When the cookies start browning at the edges, they’re done.
10. Let the cookies sit on the baking tray for about 5 minutes before transferring them onto a cooling rack. The residual heat from the baking tray will cook the cookie through and firm up the cookie. Store them in an air-tight container after they are completely cooled.