Last Saturday our family bundled up to spend the morning soaking up Christmas cheer in Downtown Seattle. There are many things to see and do Downtown this time of year but we went specifically to attend a cookie baking demonstration at Macy’s by celebrity pastry chef, and member of Macy’s Culinary Council, Johnny Iuzinni. You may know him as the host of Bravo’s Top Chef – Just Desserts. He also has an impressive resume which includes a near decade as Executive Pastry Chef at New York’s Jean Georges restaurant and is the author of Dessert Fourplay: Sweet Quartets From A Four-Star Pastry Chef.
Following the demonstration I waited in line to thank Chef Iuzinni for all his great tips. When I introduced myself as a healthy food blogger he smirked and jokingly replied, “Oh my nemesis.” The thing is, while it makes for good teasing, I disagree. We aren’t at odds with each other at all. We both agree that good cooking is good cooking. I just ask you to consider if you really need to eat the entire two dozen cookies or save some for another day.
Both Mr. Second Helpings and I learned all sorts of things in the hour or so we were watching and listening to Johnny bake three cookie recipes. For instance, Johnny opened the floor to questions at the end and as a result we now know that if he came into possession of 11 pounds of Nutella Chef Iuzinni would, “throw a party and get out the Twister board.” We then learned that Costco carries Nutella in 11 pound tubs!
Not including the Nutella, I’ve narrowed down his tops to a baker’s dozen to get you ready for the holidays and beyond.
Johnny Iuzinni’s Baking Tips:
- Work clean and be organized. Read the entire recipe, have your surfaces clear, and your ingredients measured before beginning to bake.
- Use cold butter and room temperature eggs. This tip assumes you are creaming your butter and eggs using an electric stand mixer. Johnny says, the average stand mixer creates enough friction to warm the butter and the baker can control the temperature by adjusting the mixer speed. He does dice the butter before adding it to the mixer bowl.
- Do not over mix. This came up repeatedly during the demonstration. He says one of the worst baking offenses is getting too much air in a batter. Unfortunately this must be learned through trial and error because he didn’t give many ways to identify an over mixed batter.
- If your eggs and butter curdle, stop mixing and place the bowl briefly over a pot of simmering water to warm them a bit. The mixture should mix together smoothly once the two ingredients have come to a like temperature.
- Sift all dry ingredients together with the exception of salt – add that after sifting. He measured into a bowl and then sifted everything onto a large piece of parchment. This technique allowed him to easily funnel the dry ingredients into the mixer bowl later.
- Speaking of salt he cautioned against baking with iodized table salt which he referred to as poison. There are many other salts available choose one of them for your recipes and seasonings.
- Bake by weight. If you ever wonder why a recipe comes out differently each time you make it or why you can’t duplicate your friend’s cookies even though your following the recipe, it is probably a difference of volume versus weight measurements. Baking by weight will yield the most consistent results.
- Scrape the mixing bowl. If you are going to the trouble of measuring your recipe precisely make sure to scrape all the batter from the bowl. You could be leaving an entire cookie behind.
- When baking with chocolate use instant espresso powder to intensify the chocolate flavor.
- Cookie dough can be prepared up to a month in advance and then frozen. Let it thaw in the refrigerator then warm on the counter until the dough yields to a finger poke without cracking. A well made dough will not be sticky or greasy.
- After rolling and cutting cookie shapes out of dough, do not squeeze it back into a ball and re-roll. Instead, gently press the edges of the pieces back together and roll slightly to the desired thickness.
- Use fresh citrus. He actually told the audience he would not be friends with someone who keeps plastic squeeze bottles of lemon/lime juice in their refrigerator. – I went a little weak kneed at this one. Squeezing fresh citrus is so simple and the bottled stuff has added ingredients. Like iodized salt, Johnny called the squeeze bottles poison.
- Get a microplane! – This tip came right at the beginning but I almost jumped up and gave a solo standing ovation when he said this. Seriously – get a microplane!
Are any of these tips new for you? Will you work them into your holiday baking projects? I’d love to know!
I’d also love to hear from the accomplished bakers: what are your top baking tips?
Disclosure: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere provided me with compensation for this post about Macy’s Culinary Council. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.