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I notice when I bake cookies (usually chocolate chip or peanut butter) the recipe often says "place on baking rack to cool". Because I don't have one, I just place them on a plate after removing them from the pan. It doesn't seem to do any harm. What is the point of buying this special piece of equipment?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 21 down vote accepted

A cooling rack serves two primary purposes.

First, it allows the cookies (or other baked good) to cool faster by letting air circulate completely around the cookie.

Second, it prevents the steam escaping from the cookies from soaking the bottoms, and other cookies placed on top.

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+1 for crispy cookies! –  Josh Sep 10 '10 at 23:02
    
Baking racks are also helpful for cooling things still in the pan (a cake, for instance) before removing. Or before refrigerating, if you're cooking a casserole ahead, for instance. Plates don't work for that. –  kajaco Sep 11 '10 at 17:09
    
I like crispy cookies. This is good to know! –  Dorrene Sep 12 '10 at 6:48

When you place something on a cooling rack you expose more of the surface area to the air allowing your cookies, bread, etc to cool faster than just leaving them out on the pan.

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In addition to hobodave's cookie-specific answer, as a general point (since this was asked as a general question) it's also quite important to have a rack if you are baking anything with a significant quantity of fat (i.e. meat). The rack allows the fat to actually drain; otherwise the food would end up being drowned in its own fat and become soggy. In extreme cases the fat may actually burn and seriously taint the flavour of the food you're baking.

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You call cooking meat baking? I call that roasting. –  hobodave Sep 10 '10 at 23:40
    
@hobodave: That depends entirely on how it's prepared. If you want to call the techniques in the chicken wing question "roasting", all the power to ya; I think most people would call them baked. –  Aaronut Sep 11 '10 at 2:56
    
There is actually no real difference between 'baking' and 'roasting', it's just that we apply one term to savoury foods and one to sweet (generally). One could argue that the difference is the addition of fats on the outside to promote Maillard reactions, bit really it's the same thing. –  daniel Sep 11 '10 at 7:20
    
For roasting meats, I rarely use a wire rack -- I just place down some carrots or other vegetables. The only time I use a wire rack in the oven for meats is for bacon. 99% of the use my wire racks get is from baking. –  Joe Sep 11 '10 at 11:32
    
@roux: Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure you're right - just about everything, from preparation to heat levels to which oven rack you use, is exactly the same. The only discriminator I use is the vessel - if it's a baking sheet or dish, it's baking, if it's a roasting pan or dutch oven, it's roasting. –  Aaronut Sep 11 '10 at 15:29

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