It's cookie season, and I'm looking to the Contessa.

By Maria Yagoda
December 02, 2020
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Credit: NBCUniversal / Getty Images / Greg DuPree

Want more cookie tips? Check out our everything guide to cookies.

I've developed a reputation around these parts for spending an inordinate amount of time interviewing and writing articles about Ina Garten, and it's not inaccurate. With a legacy of reliable, straightforward, and deeply comforting recipes, she's not just my go-to contemporary cookbook author, but a source I regularly return to for nuggets of kitchen wisdom.

For example, when she told me it was probably a good idea to replace my blunt vegetable peeler from the '70s, I replaced my blunt vegetable peeler from the '70s. When she told me to chop bread into chunks before freezing it, I made an entire religion out of chopping bread into chunks before freezing it. And now, as we ease into cookie season, I turn to the Barefoot Contessa to bake my some of my all-time favorite cookie recipe. A recent addition to her cookie canon? The soft, cakey black-and-white ones in her new cookbook, Modern Comfort Food.

If you're already set with your own tried-and-true holiday cookie recipes, consider perusing some of Garten's best cookie-making tips to make sure they come out perfectly.

Leave your butter and eggs out overnight

It takes a really, really long time for butter and eggs to come to room temperature, which I've come to realize is very important for baking most cookies. Leaving it out for an hour simply isn't enough time for a stick of refrigerated butter to become sufficiently soft. So Garten recommends leaving the butter and eggs out overnight (if you're organized enough to know you're baking the next day). "In order for the butter to mix with sugar and become light and fluffy, as for a cake batter, it needs to be at room temperature," she writes in Cook Like a Pro. "It won't get soft enough if you leave it on the counter for an hour; it takes hours for it to go from refrigerated temperature (38 degrees) to room temperature (70 degrees)."

Freeze your dough for 15 minutes before baking

One of the standout recipes in Garten's new Modern Comfort Food cookbook is her giant crinkled chocolate chip cookie, not only because the cookie itself is perfectly rich, crispy, and a touch salty, but also because the technique is super smart. Before arranging the balls of dough on a sheet pain, she freezes them for exactly 15 minutes. This ensures the absolute perfect texture and even cooking. Another fun technique in this one: Banging the cookie pans on the stovetop after every three minutes of cook time, lending the cookies their crinkled quality. (Garten cites food blogger Sarah Kieffer as her inspiration for this.)

Use an ice cream scoop to measure dough

Maybe this has always been obvious to everyone, but using a 2 1/4-inch standard ice cream scoop to portion out cookie dough before baking has been revelatory for me. I have always tried to guess the correct size using my humble hands, rolling them into uneven blobs that require different cook times and just don't look pretty. Garten calls for an ice cream scoop to portion out her chocolate chip cookies (and many other of her cookie recipes), and the result is pleasingly shaped cookies with crispy edges and soft centers. She also suggests using ice cream scoops for measuring out muffin dough.

Prep your ingredients before you start baking

In Cook Like a Pro, Garten recommends having everything measured out in advance before you begin. While I often don't feel like doing this, it really does make the baking process way more enjoyable. She also suggests checking to make sure you've included every component. When I portion and prep as I go through the recipe, I'll often find myself 75% done only to realize I'm missing a key ingredient and can't finish it.

Always have instant coffee granules on hand

For most of my life, it would have never, ever occurred to stock my cabinet with instant coffee, so I somewhat begrudgingly bought it when I saw it was called for in Garten's black and white cookie recipe in Modern Comfort Food. Just a half teaspoon of Nescafé granules melts into the butter and chocolate mixture that is used for the chocolate glaze on half the cookie, and wow, that small touch added so much complexity and richness to the flavor. I now make sure that instant coffee is always in my pantry to add an extra oomph to cookie glazes and icings.