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THOSE PERFECT TOUCHES

Everybody loves the taste and variety of home-baked cookies. With the tips that follow, home cooks can also make their cookies look more professional and taste better.

All nuts taste better after they are roasted in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes. The process releases their fragrant oils and makes them crisp. Toast the nuts used as ingredients in a cookie dough recipe, but do not pre-toast nuts to be used on top of cookies.

When you're chopping nuts in a food processor, add a portion of the sugar or flour specified in the recipe. It will keep the nuts from sticking together from their oils.

Don't overmix doughs once the flour has been added; overmixing makes cookies tough.

For even baking, make all the cookies the same size.

Use an oven thermometer to check your oven temperature.

For even browning, bake one sheet of cookies at a time in the center of the oven. If baking two sheets, switch positions midway during the baking time. If your oven has a "hot spot," turn the cookie sheet midway through baking.

Since baking time is so short, cookies should be made when you have time to stay in the kitchen. Check the cookies a minute before the minimum bake time to see if they are already brown, and to gauge how many more minutes they will take.

Cool cookie sheets to room temperature before using them again. This keeps the dough from spreading too much during baking.

Cool cookies completely before frosting them. Cookies frosted with chocolate may be refrigerated for 15 to 20 minutes so the chocolate can set before storing.

Bar cookies will slice more easily if they are cooled completely first. They can be stored in the pan in which they are baked, tightly covered with plastic wrap or aluminum foil.

Store crisp cookies separately from soft or chewy cookies.

Crisp cookies should be stored loosely covered with waxed paper; soft cookies should be stored in an airtight tin.

To recrisp undecorated cookies that have turn soggy: bake in a 300-degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes.

To soften cookies that have become dry: place a few slices of apple in the airtight tin.

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