Every cookie starts with butter (or another fat), sugar, eggs, and flour -- but making dough that's just right is all about your technique. To get started, select a recipe and follow our fail-proof tips.
Step 1: Soften the butter
Room- temperature butter and margarine combine more easily and thoroughly with the other ingredients in the dough. Allowing the butter to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes will bring it to the right temperature for mixing. It should be soft enough that you can make an indentation with your finger. Do this whenever a recipe calls for softened butter or margarine. To hasten the process, cut the cold butter into pieces.
Tip: Butter is best for baking cookies, but you can substitute margarine as long as it contains 80 percent vegetable oil. If the oil content doesn't appear on the label, check the calorie count. Margarines that have 100 calories or more per tablespoon contain 80 percent vegetable oil. Do not use products labeled vegetable oil spread, light or reduced-fat margarine, or diet spread.
Step 2: Beat butter and shortening
Beat butter and shortening with an electric mixer until it is smooth. This ensures that the butter is sufficiently softened and mixes completely with the other ingredients, which eliminates lumps of fat in the dough.
Step 3: Add sugar and salt
Beat in the sugar, baking powder and/or baking soda, and salt until the dry ingredients are combined with the butter. Continue to beat until the mixture lightens in color and consistency. This process is called creaming. Creaming incorporates air into the dough, helping to make the cookies light and tender when you bite into them. Scrape the side of the bowl as needed to make the mixture uniform.
Step 4: Add eggs and vanilla
Beat in the eggs. If the recipe calls for more than one, add eggs one at a time and beat on medium speed after each addition until all of the streaks of egg have disappeared. After the eggs, beat in vanilla or other flavorings.
Step 5: Beat in the flour
Beat in as much flour as you can with the electric mixer. Some handheld mixers begin to strain when the dough becomes too stiff (you'll hear the motor slowing and working harder). Don't burn out the mixer -- switch to a wooden spoon.
Step 6: Stir in remaining flour
If you are using a handheld mixer, you likely will need to stir in the last of the flour with a wooden spoon or heavy-duty scraper. Stir just until all of the flour is incorporated. If you mix the flour too much, the finished cookies may be tough. Stir in any remaining ingredients such as oats, nuts, or chocolate pieces.
If you are using a stand mixer, gradually beat in all of the remaining flour. Stop the mixer every now and then to scrape down the side and across the bottom of the bowl to be sure all of the flour is mixed in. For most cookie recipes, you will be able to beat in all of the flour. Be careful not to overmix the flour or your cookies may be tough. You can even use the mixer to beat in oats, nuts, and chocolate pieces.