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Trays of Tradition: The Art of Baking the Perfect Cookie

Baking cookies is a tradition and an art for St Louisan Julia Usher, author of the "Cookie Swap" and "The Ultimate Cookie" cookbooks.

Julia Usher is one smart cookie, especially when it comes to baking Christmas cookies. 

“I love to bake Christmas cookies, but cookie-baking and cookie swaps are something I think people should do all year round,” said Usher, of Webster Groves, whose love for cookies served as the inspiration for her two cookie cookbooks, The Cookie Swap and her latest release, The Ultimate Cookie, both published by Gibbs Smith Publishing.

Usher began commercially baking cookies and other sweet delights after relocating to St Louis several years ago. She opened a confection company here after working first as a a Yale educated engineer. A few years into the busincess she made the decision to close the company to focus on writing cookbooks and demonstrating the art of cookie baking, which she does throughout the year.

These last few weeks of Usher’s schedule has become busier, especially this holiday season with the rollout year of her latest cookbook, The Ultimate Cookie.

Since 'tis the season to bake cookies, I asked Usher what would be the best advice she could give to the home baker.

“Use a tested recipe you can trust,” said Usher. “Also, choose your recipes wisely that will fit the time you have to bake. For example, if you if don’t have a lot of time, consider baking drop cookies.”

A tip Usher offered on baking drop cookies is to use an ice cream scooper. These scoops come in various sizes that can produce cookies from a tiny bite-sized tidbit to monster size. “Ice cream scoops are neater and faster to use than spoons,” said Usher.”

Topping Usher’s list of baking tips, take the time to read through the entire recipe before beginning to bake.  Another baking helpful tip is when measuring anything, look closely at the order of operations. Meaning, if a recipe says 1 cup of flour, sifted, this means to measure the flour first, then sift. Also use dry measures for dry ingredients and liquid measures for wet ingredients. There is a difference between the two that can affect the outcome of any recipe.

An unusual baking tip Usher shared was baking upside down — on the backside of sided cookie sheets such as jelly roll pans.

“The metal sides acts as a heat conductor and those cookies placed close to the edge can over bake because they bake faster than those placed in the middle of the baking sheet,” said Usher. “Baking on the bottom of the pan can help prevent this from happening.”

While leafing through the pages of Usher’s cookie books — that are lavishly illustrated by St Louis photographer Steve Adams — it’s plain to see her love for the artful cookie.

“Beautiful cookies show you’ve put a lot of love and care into them while showing how much you care about those you give them to.”

Usher has generously shared her recipes for Ginger Snap Thumbprint Cookies and Brown Sugar Pecan Sweethearts. Both are from The Cookie Swap and are a perfect addition to your cookie tray during the holidays or any time during the year.

See Related Article: Start a Tradition With These Cookie Recipes

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