Over the years, some pretty wonderful cookie bakers have provided us with a folder full of tips. Here are some of our favorites:
If you’re using recipes from multiple sources, photocopy them first to avoid piling books, magazines and newspapers onto crowded counters. (Be sure to label the copies!)
Take an inventory of equipment and ingredients — and that includes opening containers. Sniff spices to make sure they’re fresh.
Overestimate your need for staples such as flour, sugar, butter and eggs/egg replacer. You never know when you’ll be inspired to double a particular batch.
If recipes require ingredients such as butter or cream cheese that need to be softened, it’s safe to take them out of the refrigerator late the night before. Eggs should stay in the fridge until an hour or two before they are used.
To maximize the number of cookies you can make in the shortest amount of time, freeze the doughs in advance.
For cutout cookies, roll the dough between two pieces of wax paper. Peel off the top layer of paper, use the cutter to make designs in the dough, then put the top layer of paper back on. Slide onto a baking sheet and freeze for 15 minutes. The cutouts will be easier to dislodge and transfer for baking.
To slice thin, even cookies from logs of dough, chill or freeze first until quite firm. Use a serrated knife for cutting.
When rolling small pieces of a soft, chilled dough, incorporate the scraps right into the next piece of dough rather than re-roll all of them at the end, when they might be too soft to roll easily.
Dip cookie cutters with intricate corners or designs into flour before creating each cutout cookie, tapping off any excess flour; this will help keep dough from sticking.
To get the most out of citrus zest, mince or grate it and then mix it into the amount of sugar called for in the recipe. That way, the citrus oils will be dispersed and evenly released.
Toast coconut (spread on a baking sheet) before you add it to recipes that call for coconut; this will add a subtle crunch.
Adding a bit of orange extract to a royal icing mixture will help to cut the sweetness.
Colored icing should sit, covered, for 10 minutes to develop its color, which will intensify. If you add too much color and your icing is too dark, add white icing, not water.
Know your oven: Find out whether it heats from the top or the bottom. To guard against burning cookies that are baked on the lower or even middle rack, place a similarly sized empty baking sheet on the bottom rack (to absorb some of the heat).
Preheat a gas-powered oven at 25 degrees hotter than the temperature required in a recipe. When the sheet of cookies goes in, reduce the heat to the proper temperature. (The oven temperature usually drops when you put something into the oven, causing the flame to ignite. Starting at a slightly higher temperature will allow for a drop without further ignition.)
Place larger or thicker sugar cookies on the perimeter of the baking sheet and smaller or thinner ones on the interior. This will help ensure they’ll all get done at the same time. (This works for many kinds of cookies.)
When baking chewy cookies, pull them out of the oven 1 minute before you think they are done. Overbaking will ruin their texture.
The best way to keep cookies fresh (and keep flavors separate) is to wrap one, or a few, in wax paper, then store in airtight plastic containers or tins.
Pack crisp cookies separate from soft, chewy ones to help preserve their textures.
To make sure your clean cookie cutters are completely dry before putting them away till next year, place them in a 180-degree oven for about 3 minutes.
1/2cup plus 3 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 3/4 cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped (see cook's note)
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Cook's note: To toast the walnuts, spread them on a baking sheet and place in a 350° oven, shaking the sheet occasionally, for 8-10 minutes. Watch carefully; nuts burn quickly.
Place racks in the upper and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Combine the cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, salt, and walnuts in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed for 1 minute.
With the mixer running, slowly add the egg whites and vanilla extract. Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes, until the mixture has thickened slightly and looks lumpy. Do not overmix, or the egg whites will thicken too much.
Use a 2-ounce cookie or ice-cream scoop, or a generous tablespoon, to scoop the batter onto the prepared baking sheets. Scoop 5 cookies onto each sheet, spacing them about 3 inches apart so that they don't stick when they spread. If you have extra batter, wait until the first batch of cookies is baked before scooping the next batch.
Transfer the baking sheets to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 320°. Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom about halfway through baking; small, thin cracks will appear on the surface of the cookies. Pull the parchment paper with the cookies onto a wire cooling rack, and cool completely before removing the cookies from the paper.
The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days or wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months.
Yield: About 12 cookies
Source: Adapted from One Sweet Cookie: Celebrated Chefs Share Favorite Recipes, by Tracey Zabar
Crispy Toffee Cookies
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped
1 1/4 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
7 ounces crushed hard toffee candy bars, such as Heath or Skor (see note)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cook's note: The candy bars typically are small, so you'll need to buy several to equal 7 ounces. Don't buy the miniature bars; they'll have too much chocolate and not enough toffee. If you want to dispense with the chocolate altogether, Heath sells Toffee Bits in 8-ounce bags.
Beat the butter and sugars together in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held mixer on medium-high speed until light, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the almonds, salt, flour, baking powder, and toffee bits. Finally, incorporate the egg.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a uniform log about 3 inches in diameter and 10 inches long. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day.
Preheat the oven to 440°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Use a sharp knife to slice the log of dough into ½-inch rounds. Transfer the rounds to the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges are light brown, rotating the sheet front to back about halfway through baking.
If the cookies lose some of their shape during baking, you can remedy that during the few minutes immediately after they come out of the oven. Use a metal spatula to push in any wayward dough and coax the cookie back into roundness. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool thoroughly before storing in an airtight container.
Yield: About 20 cookies
Source: Adapted from Swedish Desserts, by Cecilia Vikbladh
For the cookies:
3 cups sliced almonds, unblanched (with skins)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for rolling the cookies
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 large egg white
Water, as needed
For the glaze:
1-1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar, or more as needed, plus more for dusting
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon kirsch or other clear brandy or eau de vie, or freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 300°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Pulverize the almonds with the confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon and salt in a food processor or blender until the almonds are very finely ground.
If using a food processor, add the honey and egg white and process until smooth. If the dough is dry and cracking, add a tiny bit of water and process until the dough comes together.
If using a blender, transfer the almond mixture to a large bowl, add the honey and egg white, and stir until the dough comes together, then knead by hand until smooth. Dust a clean surface with confectioners’ sugar. Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/3 inch — no thinner. Cut out shapes using a star-shaped cookie cutter 2 inches in diameter, transferring them to the prepared baking sheets as you work. After cutting out as many cookies as you can, collect and re-roll the scraps once to make more cookies.
Bake the cookies for 12 minutes, rotating the sheets front to back midway through the cooking time. The cookies should be very lightly browned and soft. Cool them on the baking sheets.
For the glaze: Mix the confectioners’ sugar and egg white until smooth, then mix in the liqueur or lemon juice. The glaze should be quite thick, opaque and almost hard to stir; add more sugar if needed. Spread the glaze thickly, so you can't see the surface of the cookie; alternatively, dip the cookies in the glaze and scrape off any excess. Let the cookies rest until the glaze is completely dry.
Yield: About 24 cookies
Source: Adapted from Ready for Dessert, by Dave Lebovitz
Russian Mint Cookies
For the cookies:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 large egg, slightly beaten
3 cups flour, plus more for your hands
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract
Food coloring (optional)
2-4 tablespoons milk
For the cookies: Combine the sugar, water, and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Stir in the peppermint extract and egg.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease 3 baking sheets with nonstick cooking oil spray.
Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the cooled syrup mixture. (The dough will be very sticky.) Use your floured hands to roll teaspoons of dough into 1-inch balls. Transfer the balls to the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Use the bottom of a drinking glass to flatten the balls just slightly.
Bake for 7-10 minutes, just until the cookies are slightly golden and the tops have cracked a little.
While the cookies are baking, prepare the glaze: Combine the confectioners’ sugar, peppermint extract, food coloring, if using, and enough of the milk to create a thin, creamy glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the cookies while they're still on the baking sheets. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or wrap tightly and freeze for up to 3 months.
Yield: About 50 cookies
Source: Adapted from The Joy of Cookies, by Sharon Tyler Herbst