Who: Jen Musty
What: Professional cookie baker
Where: Batter Bakery, San Francisco
Today we have the pleasure of sharing holiday cookie baking tips from expert baker Jen Musty. Jen's the genius behind my favorite chocolate chip cookie (chewy on the inside, crusty on the outside, big discs of quality chocolate and a touch of Maldon sea salt, oh yeah), so this interview and tour was of particular interest to me. (Inner dialogue: What is her secret?!)
From the surprising flour she uses for better chocolate chip cookies, to the reason why why she skips sugar cookies altogether, read on for some smart pro tips from Jen for holiday cookie baking.
Jen started her business in 2008 with no food industry experience but plenty of trial and error at the beginning. She's been baking and cooking with her mom since she could hold a spoon.
Since opening her brick and mortar shop as well as a kiosk in downtown San Francisco, her business of baking kicked-up old-fashioned American sweets has been growing, especially with each holiday season where she fills hundreds of cookie orders for clients big and small (Jen and her small team created 3,000 hand-decorated sugar cookies for one Yahoo party last year).
One Big Tip for Better Cookies
Want to know the one thing that will make all your cookies taste better? Jen recommends a drier dough. This dryness will yield a puffier cookie, have less of a spread, and will lose the "cakeyness" that some enjoy, but that I at least am not looking for in a cookie.
To get to a drier dough, it's all about experimenting with the recipe. You don't necessarily need to add more flour, but you can start by perhaps removing one egg and playing with the ratio of leaveners.
Jen's Secrets for a Better Chocolate Chip Cookie: 2 Tips
For chocolate chip cookies exclusively, Jen swears by a high gluten flour to give the chew and crust she's so famous for. Size is also important for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Jen says that a measuring scoop of about 4 ounces makes a large, indulgent and great balance between chew, loft and craggy crusty edges (it's the little things, right?).
Lastly on this chocolate chip topic, aging the dough a day or two in the fridge (no freezing) yields more complex flavor in the final cookie.
If these insider secrets aren't enough to make you leap from the computer and into the kitchen, you've got more self control than I do.
Jen's Advice for Decorated Cookies
Let's talk about decorated cookies. Every year Jen leads classes in holiday cookie decorating, and she makes it looks easy (the mark of a real pro).
Her method is simple and effective: she bakes shortbread cookies, instead of a more traditional sugar cookie, which end up puffier and with softer edges. (With shortbread, each cookie is very defined and perfect before they even get the icing.) After cooling the cookies, Jen whips up a basic royal icing with gel food coloring. Liquid food colorings affect the consistency and are not as vibrant, she says. She pipes a small line around the perimeter of each cookie, then uses the same icing with a touch of water added to thin it out, and floods it with a spoon to smear it into the already established "walls" of firmer icing. The effect is dazzling; it looks so neat and tidy. After the icing has set, Jen adds sugar and sprinkles. (If you don't wait until the icing sets, the sugar will melt and sink into the icing, becoming invisible.)
Jen, you're a wealth of cookie expertise! Thank you so much for generously sharing some of your secrets to us home bakers! I'm inspired to attack this holiday season with a dry chocolate chip cookie dough and proper flooding technique for my hand-decorated cookies!
7 Pro Tips for Holiday Cookie Baking
1. Stock your kitchen before the holidays. If you haven't already done it, now is the time to stock your kitchen with plenty of cookie-making supplies. Stash away sugars, spices, molasses, nuts, chocolate etc. Purchase parchment paper, piping bags, sprinkles, and food colorings. Make sure to check expiration dates on leavening, and replace anything old to guarantee best results! Invest in a Microplane for zest and fresh nutmeg, and an assortment of ice cream scoops for consistently sized cookies. You'll be prepared for baking and avoid having to run out to the store before each batch, avoiding stress and hassle.
2. Get a scale. Makes things much easier and more precise.
3. Test new recipes in small batches before you plan to serve or give them as gifts! We've all been there: a gorgeous cookbook photo lured us in, and we are positive these will be the best cookies ever... until they go all wrong! Make sure the recipes are tried and true before you double a batch, so you don't end up with wasted ingredients and time. Timeless family recipes that have been passed down are always a guaranteed winner.
4. Use the highest quality ingredients you can find. It might seem obvious, but using high quality flour, butter, chocolate, and extracts will make your cookies stand out above the rest. Chocolate should be something you would happily eat on its own. We love using (local) TCHO chocolate in our cookies. Look for a good-quality unbleached wheat flour, and don't buy the generic store brand. Make sure to store your ingredients properly for longest shelf life. Reserve a cool, dry spot for your baking pantry.
5. Use shortbread rather than sugar cookies for sharper shapes. Upgrade from sugar cookie "blobs" to works of art with a classic shortbread dough. Roll to approximately 1/4-inch thick on a well-floured surface and cut using your favorite cutters.
6. Don't forget the packaging and presentation. Display your cookies on beautiful serving plates, cake stands, wooden serving pieces, or slate cheeseboards. Creating a dessert display with multiple levels and vessels will earn oohs and ahhs from your guests. If giving as gifts, pick up cellophane bags, bakers' twine, ribbon, boxes, and tags from a pastry supply or craft store and get creative!
7. Invite friends and family for cookie making! Nothing helps spread holiday cheer like sharing food and time in the kitchen.
→ Visit Jen's San Francisco Bakery: Batter Bakery
(Image credits: Leela Cyd)