Chocolate, sugar, eggs, nuts: These ingredients turn up again and again in every type of cookie, whether dropped from a spoon, baked in a pan, piped from a pastry bag, or formed with a cutter. These steps explain how to achieve a few of the more common uses for these popular additions. Not only will you come across these techniques throughout our recipes, you’ll also find them basic to almost all types of baking, so they are good tricks to know. You will learn how to melt chocolate to flavor dough or to decorate it, to make that miraculous cloudlike product of egg white and sugar called meringue, to toast nuts so they are aromatic and rich, and to apply icing in a network of fine lines, a technique known as drizzling (another way to create this effective finishing touch is to pipe from a plastic bag).
Place chocolate pieces and shortening (if called for) in a small, heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until melted and smooth. Or, place in a glass dish and microwave on high power for 1 to 3 minutes, or melt in a heavy-duty plastic bag.
Preheat an oven to 350°. Spread the nut halves or pieces in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Bake until the nuts have colored slightly to a light, golden brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir once or twice with a wooden spoon so the nuts brown evenly.
After the nuts have been toasted and chopped (if called for), spoon them into a fine wire-mesh sieve set over paper toweling. Tap the edge of the sifter to filter out the skin of the nuts.
Drizzling Icing or Chocolate
Arrange cooled cookies on a wire rack over waxed paper. Fill a small spoon with icing or melted chocolate. Move the spoon back and forth over each cookie to create fine lines. Let the icing or chocolate flow off the spoon in a ribbon.