All-purpose wheat flour is commonly used for cookies as wheat gluten gives baked goods structure. The wheat germ in whole-wheat flour goes rancid quickly, so the flour is best kept sealed in a zip-top bag and chilled.
This fine powdery starch is made from finely ground corn kernels and is used primarily as a thickening agent. It is often added to flour to lighten its texture, and it lasts indefinitely sealed in a cool, dry place.
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Old-fashioned oats are made from rolling whole oat kernels or groats. The quick-cooking variety is made from flattening oat groat bits. Most recipes will state which variety to use. Avoid instant oats in cookies as they will affect cooking time and texture.
Baking Soda and Baking Powder
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, a single-acting alkaline ingredient used as a leavening agent. It is mixed with dry ingredients. Once wet ingredients are added—especially acidic ones—it reacts and releases carbon dioxide to create light, airy baked goods. Baking powder is a blend of baking soda and tartaric acid. It is a double-acting leavening agent that first reacts when combined with wet ingredients and then a second time with the heat of the oven. Check package expiration dates as both ingredients lose efficacy over time.
Cream of Tartar
This refined byproduct of wine making is used to stabilize whipped egg whites and also acts as a leavening agent. It lasts indefinitely.
Whole spices last twice as long as ground, so buy spices whole and grind them as needed. Sealed in a cool, dark place, whole spices last 2 to 3 years, while ground spices begin to lose their potency within a year or two.
Granulated sugar is all-purpose and used in an array of cooking methods. Superfine or castor sugar is pulverized granulated sugar that readily dissolves in liquid. Powdered sugar has been ground to a fine powder to dissolve almost instantly and is used for frostings and dusting cookies and brownies. Brown sugar is granulated sugar combined with molasses that comes in more delicately flavored light or intensely flavored dark varieties.
Corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, molasses, or sorghum all impart sweetness to recipes. Store at room temperature, and they will last forever.
Whipping cream (30% to 36% butterfat) and heavy cream (36% to 40% butterfat) are the skimmed creams that rise to the top of milk. Both can be whipped and mixed into batters.
As the name suggests, this is half cream and half milk. It is used to add richness to batters. In a pinch, it can be made by mixing equal parts milk and cream.
Fresh whole or reduced-fat (2%) cow’s milk works best for cookies, with no noticeable difference in results. Originally, buttermilk was the liquid drained from churned butter. Today, it gets its thick, tangy flavor from added cultures. Its acidity reacts with leavening agents to create light, tender cookies. Evaporated milk is canned, concentrated milk from which 60% of the water has been removed through heating and evaporation. It can be used as is in recipes or reconstituted with water as a substitute for fresh milk. Sweetened condensed milk is a shelf-stable canned cow’s milk-and-sugar blend that has been reduced to a thick, syrupy-sweet mixture and is often used in desserts. Unused portions of canned milk should be refrigerated.
Use very fresh, large grade-A brown or white hen eggs unless a recipe calls for a different size. Eggs act as leaveners in recipes when their moisture evaporates during baking. The fat in the yolks helps emulsify batter and adds richness to baked cookies. Egg whites help stabilize the dough and provide structure.
Vegetable, canola, and corn oil are good bets for baking and have a high smoke point and neutral flavor. Avocado and coconut oils also have high smoke points, but they impart a distinctive flavor and major hit to your wallet. Other options to try include peanut oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil.
Butter contains 80% milkfat and comes unsalted, salted, and whipped. Avoid whipped butter which has too much air incorporated to get an accurate measure for baking.
Solid shortening is 100% vegetable fat with no water content. It gives tenderness to baked goods but lacks butter-rich flavor.
Have everything you need? Check out our Best Loved Cookie and Bar Recipes. Your cookies will be a hit at the next bake-sale.