Tip number one: measurements matter.  

Micah A. Leal

I do not like to bake. That's a pretty hot take coming from a Southern Living staffer. Hear me out: I enjoy eating brownies and watching Instagram videos of cookie decorating and even editing recipes about layer cakes. But when it comes to making baked goods in my own kitchen, I'd rather do just about anything else. I could blame it on genetics—my mom doesn't bake either. I could use my lack of kitchen tools as an excuse—I don't own a stand mixer, and the rickety oven in my rental house cooks everything unevenly. So really, the odds were against me when I set out to make Peanut Butter Blossoms for the Southern Living cookie swap. But here's the real reason I don't like to bake: It's really hard.

Exact measurements matter in baking, as it turns out. Who would've thought an extra pinch of baking soda or a splash more of vanilla extract could totally derail a recipe? (Before anyone starts sending petitions for my termination to HR, know that I focus on home, garden, and pet content—SL's recipes are still in experienced hands.) You really can't "wing it" when it comes to baking. Baking is a science, I realized, that requires meticulous measurements, attention to detail, and a lot of patience.

WATCH: Tips From The Test Kitchen: The Secret Step You're Leaving Out of Cookie Baking

Peanut Butter Blossoms are delicious, easy-to-make cookies. The ingredients list is short, and one batch takes less than an hour to bake. However, I took a few wrong turns throughout the recipe. First, I didn't use a teaspoon to measure out the baking soda and salt called for in Step One. I thought eyeballing the measurements and using a regular spoon would suffice. Wrong. Next, I didn't use a stand mixer to combine the ingredients in Step 2; instead, I mixed everything together by hand with a whisk. While I did get an arm workout, I wasn't able to get a "light and airy" consistency for the batter like the instructions described. I was still too stubborn to pull out a teaspoon measurement for the vanilla extract in Step 3, so I added an extra splash. My biggest blunder was failing to read the directions closely in Step 5; I totally missed the part about rolling the dough balls in granulated sugar before placing them on the baking sheet. My cookies didn't come out with a shiny crust of sugar like the photo, but instead were matte and dull (see photo below). In the end, the cookies were still edible. Paired with a cup of coffee, they were even good (almost).

Zoe Denenberg

Four lessons I learned from cookie baking:

1. Baking is a science. Respect the measurements.

2. Skipping a step can throw off the whole outcome of the cookie, so follow the directions exactly.

3. Baking requires patience and practice. (Read: Don't open the oven every 2 minutes to see if the cookies are done.)

4. Even if you do stray from the exact instructions, the outcome will probably still be edible. A peanut butter-and-chocolate combo is reliably delicious.

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