After you’ve done the work and spent money on ingredients, you don’t want to see your home-baked cookies going to waste because they got hard.
Cookies get hard either because they were over-baked, or because they got stale over time. There are two ways of dealing with the problem: preventing it, and fixing it.
Let’s examine the first way:
Prevent Hard Cookies
Then level the flour off the full measuring cup with the edge of a knife. This method does take a little longer, but it ensures that your dough won’t be stiff with extra flour.
A too-stiff dough can be treated with a little milk or a teaspoon of added butter to achieve the proper consistency. Make notes and adjust liquid and fat the next time you bake that recipe.
Brown sugar is moister than white, so bake your cookies with brown. Or if the recipe calls for both, make the majority of the sugar brown.
Bake cookies on an aluminum baking sheet rather than a dark sheet. Or line the sheet with baking parchment.
Be careful not to over-bake. Cookies continue cooking for a few minutes after they’ve been removed from the oven, so take your cookies out while they’re still a little soft and only the edges are golden brown.
Don’t let freshly baked cookies sit on the baking sheet longer than five minutes. Left alone on the hot baking sheet, they’ll continue to cook and lose moisture, so set them on a rack to continue cooling.
The way you store baked cookies also makes a difference. To store them long term, freeze them in airtight containers or freezer bags.
Pieces of parchment paper tucked between cookies will prevent their sticking together in the freezer. They will be fine for three months.
Frozen cookies should be thawed out at room temperature. They will be nice and fresh.
Cookies that you plan on serving soon should be kept at room temperature. The fat in them will harden in the refrigerator.
Place them in an airtight container or sealed plastic bag and set them away from heat and cooking steam. They will be fine for three days.
If you’re storing several batches of different cookies, keep crisp ones separate from soft ones. Crisp cookies will soften on contact with soft ones.
The reverse is also true: soft cookies will lose moisture to crisp cookies.
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Fix Hard Cookies
You need to expose them to something that’s moist. They will wick up the moisture and soften.
The classic, tried-and-tested way is to put a thick slice of fresh white bread in the bottom of a cookie jar or airtight container. Put the hard cookies on top of it.
Keep the jar or container closed overnight and check the texture of the cookies in the morning. If they’re still hard, close the jar and wait another 8 or 12 hours.
The cookies will have absorbed moisture from the bread and softened.
Note: make sure the bread’s flavor is compatible with the flavor of your cookies. A hearty rye-and-onion bread will spoil the flavor of your sweet cookies.
That’s why a slice of standard white bread is best for softening cookies: its neutral flavor won’t pass on to them.
A couple of slices of fresh apple placed on the bottom of the jar will also do the trick.
Another alternative is to wrap a damp paper towel in foil and poke holes through the foil with a toothpick or thin knife. As with the bread, put the package in the bottom of a jar or container, and place the cookies on top.
Close the jar and wait 24 hours.
You can also soften a few cookies at a time with a damp paper towel and the microwave or microwave drawer. Wrap each cookie with the damp – not wet – paper towel.
Then microwave them on the medium setting for 15-20 seconds. If they’re not soft enough, replace the paper towel with a fresh damp one and microwave another 10 seconds.
The microwave method works, but the cookies will revert to stiff soon after, so plan to eat them right away.
If cookies overbaked, wrap each one in plastic wrap while still warm. Then put the wrapped cookies in a container and close it. Don’t wait – you want to trap some of the steam they give off before it evaporates.
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