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Hi all!

 

I've been on a baking kick lately and have done really well with breads, both sweet and savory. That's the good news... But this week I started with some cookies and both have been failures. They spread all over the sheet so that I end up with one cookie-sheet sized cookie! Tastes good, but looks awful!

 

I'm thinking that it might have something to do with my oven not keeping a consistent temperature (they don't seem to like to use insulation here on fridges and ovens <_< ), or maybe the ingredients (is it the butter???), or perhaps the humidity/heat . One batch was done in our outdoor stove, and tonight's experiment was indoors in the toaster oven. We live in the southern Pacific zone, but the house is about 800 ft. elevation and 1/2 km from the ocean. I kept the dough in the fridge until right before baking. I have no problems with pie crusts or shortbread cookie bars.

 

Any ideas? Thanks for any tips!

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every oven I have ever had in CR had lousy calibration - an oven thermometer helped. Gas ovens (mine, that is) kept a fairly constant temperature, but cookies are particularly susceptible to too hot/cold temperatures.

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Thanks Julie! I actually DO have two oven thermometers in there! One purchased in the States and one purchased here (interestingly, they agree on the temp!). I read somewhere that margarine instead of butter would help, but I've tasted two different brands of stick margarine here - Numar and Mazola - and I just can't make myself bake with them. I think they're one ingredient away from being plastic... but seem to be what most Ticos use.

 

Well, I'll try a few more times, but am beginning to think I'd better stick to bars. Cookie bars, I mean - although not being able to make my trusty Toll-house cookies could send me to one of those other bars! :P

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I know a few professional bakers here, and they have all changed to electric ovens. Even with the chance of the power going off, as they say the oven heat in the gas oven, does not stay true...

When using my previous gas oven, I found the cookies that turned out best, was on a thick insulated sheet that I purchased from TIPS.

Edited by costaricafinca

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I had some early failures trying to bake chocolate chip cookies in CR. At first I thought it might have been altitude related. I am at about 4500 ft. but the instructions say that the recipe is good to 5000 ft. Finally, I moved the oven rack up one notch and the cookies turned out fine! I blame it on poor oven performance. My cheapo Mabe propane stove/oven has no insulation so I am sure that there is a huge internal temperature gradient. Cooler below, warmer above. Even though I was using an oven thermometer the cookies weren't getting the proper heat. If you have been baking bread then your oven rack is probably near the center of the oven. Try moving the rack to a position above the center of the oven. Preheat the oven well and use a thermometer.

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I am at about 3100 feet and have a little Atlas apartment sized lp-gas stove with oven. I have a cooking thermometer in it and the first time I turned on the oven after I got it installed, I set it to 350F/177C. and checked it about ten minutes later and the thermometer read spang on 350F. I checked it at ten minute intervals three more times and it did not waver, halla-loo!

 

The first thing I used the oven for was to bake a pan of brownies and they came out perfectly done! The next time I used it to bake the same recipe one corner of the pan baked a hair more than the other three and so was a tad darker.

 

Subsequently my baked items have all shown that same back corner of the upper oven to be a hair hotter so I have learned to rotate the pan partway thru baking and that solved the problem.

 

I haven't tried baking anything like cookies yet but it is interesting to hear of the cookie spreading issue.

 

One thing I'd like to suggest to any of you living 3000 feet or above is a very good, relatively new cookbook called

 

PIE IN THE SKY,

 

the full title of which is actually (take a deep breath here):

 

Pie in the Sky Successful Baking at High Altitudes: 100 Cakes, Pies, Cookies, Breads, and Pastries Home-tested for Baking at Sea Level, 3,000, 5,000, 7,000, and 10,000 feet (and Anywhere in Between), by Susan G. Purdy.

 

It is available on Amazon.com and was introduced to me by a friend who lives up above San Ramón. (FWIW, I just looked on Amazon.com and see that this book is running about $19.00 new, but that there's also a used copy listed at $13.25.)

 

I bought myself a copy last year and this book is very well thought out and tested.

 

I mention it because it might be of interest to some of you who are having some altitude-related baking problems.

 

¡Pura Pai!

 

Paul M.

==

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I forgot to mention that I also now use 1 stick of butter and 1 stick of Numar margarine instead of 2 sticks of butter. This raises the melting point of the dough so the cookies come out a bit thicker.

 

I saw this trick on an episode of Good Eats on TV. You can vary the recipe to use 100% butter to some/all margarine or to some/all butter flavored shortening to change the melting point. You can also change the ratio of brown sugar to white sugar to make the cookies softer or crunchier. It was an interesting episode about how the original recipe could be varied to change the desired results.

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WOW!!! You guys ROCK!!! So many great answers, I'll have to give them all a try till I find the right thing. I especially like the suggestion about moving the rack up a notch - you're right, my bread baking requires center rack. Right now, we have an osso bucco in the oven, but I'll try my leftover cookie dough right after that...

 

Thanks all for your great suggestions and tips. I love that mile long name on that cookbook!

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What kind of white sugar and brown sugar are you using? The first time I baked chocolate chip cookies here, I used the regular tico sugars and the cookies were like chewing the beach! That coarse stuff just doesn't dissolve. I now use the refinado sugar, and the U.S.-style brown sugar (available at AutoMercado, I think the brand is Dixie). I also use Gold Medal flour. It's just not worth messing with the unknown brands and risking the loss of your ingredients. My cookies now turn out great. I have an electric range, Magic Chef brand. It stays true to temperature and is well insulated.

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The first time I baked chocolate chip cookies here, I used the regular tico sugars and the cookies were like chewing the beach! That coarse stuff just doesn't dissolve.

I have found the same thing with tico sugar. Especially the brown sugar. There just isn't much liquid in the batter to dissolve the sugar. There is some water from the eggs but it is not much. I don't have an Alto Mercado near me so I usually stick with the tico sugar. You really need to mix the batter a lot to help dissolve the sugars, A stand mixer would be great for this but I don't have one. =( I just mix a lot and then mix some more and leave the batter in the fridge overnight. My cookies turn out okay.

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