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Baking Chocolate Chip Cookies for the County Fair
In Search of the Perfect Cookie
Sometimes you just want to whip up a batch of cookies for fun, but sometimes you want them perfect. If you are interested in entering cookies in the county fair, or just want to impress your mother-in-law, you’ll want to pay more attention to your cookie baking. This article will apply to any type of drop cookies, not just chocolate chip.
Use Your Best Recipe, but Nothing Crazy
If you are baking for the county fair, you will want to use a standard recipe because this isn’t the time to experiment with unique ingredients. I personally just use the one on the back of the package of the chocolate chips I buy.
County fair judges are looking for very specific characteristics in winning products. I previously entered a type of peanut butter cookies with oatmeal in them. They did not place, and I assume this is because the judge expected a standard, smooth peanut butter cookie. When you read the class list, imagine what type of cookie your great-grandmother would make for the class.
The scorecard for baking is general, in terms of what a perfect cookie should look like. For the most part, county fair judges expect old fashioned types of baking.
Measuring and Baking
Measure the ingredients carefully, then drop balls of dough onto the baking sheet. Give each cookie lots of space because they do spread out as they are baking. If they stick together and have to be cut apart, they will lose a lot of points in the General Appearance category of the scorecard.
When I make drop cookies, I use a cookie scoop that gives me very uniform balls of dough. If you don’t have a cookie scoop, use two spoons. If any balls of dough have rough edges, gently smooth them before baking.
Besides choosing the right recipe, you’ll also want to bake the cookies very carefully. Use shiny baking pans that are very clean. Any greasy residue that is left over from a previous use will burn your cookies.
Know your oven. If you oven cooks hot, you’ll need to adjust the temperature accordingly. In my oven, if the recipe says 350 degrees, I bake at 325, or sometimes even at 300. My oven also has a spot in the back corner where it tends to cook really hot. It’s ideal to spin the cookie sheet around halfway through the baking time so all the cookies bake evenly.
For best results, only bake one cookie sheet at a time and pay close attention to them. I know it’s hard to not run around doing other things in the kitchen, but this puts you at high risk of forgetting the cookies and burning them, even if you do set a timer.
To speed things up, put your cookies in the oven and set a timer, then immediately prepare a second pan for baking. Then devote your attention to the cookies in the oven.
Often, cookies will take a different amount of time than is specified in the recipe. You want a finished cookie that is evenly light golden on the bottom, and just baked on the top. If it’s golden all over, it’s probably too dark.
Finding the Perfect Cookies
Cool your cookies on a flat surface, like a clean countertop. Don’t use a rack, because the rack will leave marks on the bottom of the cookies. To prevent the cookies from sticking to the cooling surface, flip them over once they are cool enough to touch.
Once the cookies are baked and cooled completely, it’s time to select the ones you’ll take to the fair. Usually a class calls for three cookies. These three cookies need to be as similar as possible.
Observe your cookies looking for three that are the same size and shape. Even if you used a cookie scoop, you’ll find there is a lot of variation between cookies. Usually, it’s easy to find two cookies that match, but hard to find the third. Just start mixing and matching and eventually you’ll end up with several groups that are possibilities.
At this point, flip the cookies over to check the color of the bottom. This needs to be uniform as well.
When you find your three ‘perfect’ cookies, package them as is specified in the class list. Usually this means place them on a small Styrofoam plate and put the plate into a Ziploc bag. Attach your entry tag, and you’re ready to go!
The Judging Process
When your baking is judged, the judge will first observe your cookies for uniformity, color and texture. To view the texture, they will break one cookie in half and observe the inside to see if it’s fully cooked. Then they will taste one half of the cookie. Taste is the most important part of the scorecard. If your cookie is the best, you’ll usually be awarded a ribbon, and sometimes prize money. Sometimes the judge will write a note on the back of your entry tag with ways you can improve. If you practice every time you bake cookies, you’ll find you have a winning entry in no time.