How to not screw up cookies this year

Alison Ladman
Associated Press

No matter how ambitious your holiday cookie baking plans are, chances are good you won’t be cranking out the massive quantities most professional bakers are prepping for this holiday season. But that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow — and benefit from — their pro-grade tips that help them turn mountains of dough into armies of cookies.

So, we’ve assembled the best tips and tricks professional bakers use and show you how to put them into play at home:

Freshness counts

If you don’t bake often, your baking soda and baking powder may be past their prime. And that means your cookies won’t have the right puff. If you can’t recall when you bought them, splurge on new ones. Or test them by combining a little with vinegar. If the mixture gets foamy, you’re good to go.

You also want to check your ingredients for rancidity. Nuts, seeds and some flours can turn rancid, meaning the fats have gone bad. Test nuts and seeds by taste before you put them in your cookies. If they have a funky or off taste, toss them. Rancid flours will smell off, so just take a whiff. And the best way to prevent this is to store whole-grain flours, nuts and seeds in the freezer in a zip-close plastic bags.

Pay attention to temperature

Temperature can play a variety of roles in a recipe (beyond just setting your oven correctly). Butter simply cannot cream correctly if it’s too cold or too warm. So if a recipe calls for softened butter, you want it to hold its shape, but yield when pressed on. And proper creaming of the butter and sugar is critical to the finished texture of your cookies.

On the other hand, if a recipe calls for chilling a dough, do it and don’t try to rush it. It’s there for a reason. Some doughs are too soft at room temperature and need to be chilled so they are easier to handle or roll out. Other doughs will lose their shape if placed from room temperature into a hot oven.

Scrape the bowl

You know the part of the recipe that says to scrape your bowl between additions? Do it. It’s important. If you don’t scrape the bowl, it’s likely that your dough won’t be properly mixed. You might end up with a chunk of unmixed butter or sugar, or a smear of egg white, in your dough. Or even worse, you could get a hunk of creamed butter and sugar that hasn’t been mixed into the flour, resulting in a big streak of crispy and unsightly burnt edge.

Portion the dough evenly

If your cookies are evenly sized, they’re more likely to bake evenly.

For drop cookies, your best bet is to use a disher, also known as a cookie scoop. These look like an ice cream scoop, but have a thumb- or other squeeze-activated bar inside the scoop to help dislodge the dough. They are the best way to get your drop cookies evenly sized. You can find them online and at most kitchen shops. (And in the off season, use them for ice cream.)

For slice-and-bake refrigerator cookies, the key is to turn your dough log a quarter turn after every slice. This keeps the log from losing its shape, and that keeps the cookies round.

Wet your hands

When you’re working with a soft or sticky dough, it can be difficult to move it from the bowl to the counter or pan. But if you moisten your hands lightly with a bit of water, the dough won’t stick as much. This works especially well for spreading bars or brownies in a pan, but also if you’re trying to wrap rounds of dough to go in the refrigerator.

Make dough discs, not dough balls

Most drop cookies should be slightly flattened once the dough balls are arranged on the baking sheet. This helps the cookies bake evenly so the centers aren’t still doughy when the edges are done. Pressing each ball gently with the underside of a drinking glass or a moistened palm is a good way to do this.

Embrace kitchen parchment

Kitchen parchment (also called baking parchment or parchment paper) is paper treated to be nonstick and heat-safe. It works wonders preventing your cookies from sticking to the pan, and also makes your cleanup much easier. You can find it alongside the foil at the grocer and it comes as sheets or rolls.

Don’t flour your cut-out cookies

When you’re going to roll out dough for cut-out cookies, you often turn out the dough onto a floured surface, then sprinkle it with more flour as you roll it flat. Stop it.

Rolling the dough between sheets of kitchen parchment eliminates all this extra flour from being worked into the dough. It also allows you to re-roll the scraps more times without making the cookies unpleasantly tough. If the dough sticks a little to the parchment, pop it into the refrigerator or freezer to make sure it is nice and cold before peeling the paper off.

Cool your pans

If you’re baking more than one pan of cookies, make sure to let your pans cool between batches. Remember how that dough needs to be the right temperature before it goes in the oven? If you put it on a hot pan, the bottoms of the dough will get all melty and the cookies will spread too much during baking.

Freeze extra dough

Maybe you don’t want a huge pile of cookies lying around the house (because you might eat them all at once). Or maybe you want to prep your cookie supply so you can bake off a few at a time later. The solution is the freezer. Most cookie doughs freeze beautifully. Slice and bake cookies should be frozen, well wrapped, as a whole log. Just bring back to refrigerator temperature before slicing.

Drop cookies can be scooped into balls and frozen, then transferred to a zip-top plastic bag for storage. Cut-out cookie dough can be shaped into disks, then wrapped in plastic and frozen, then rolled out on another day (works great for pie dough, too).

Freeze extra cookies

While freshly baked cookies definitely are better, if you bake too many cookies, the freezer still can be your friend. Make sure you freeze your cookies before decorating them. The best option is in an airtight container to help prevent breaking. And separate layers of cookies with sheets of kitchen parchment or waxed paper to prevent them from sticking together. Unfrosted bars can be frozen right in the pan. Cookies with a very high sugar content (such as Florentines or other lace cookies) don’t do well in the freezer. You’ll just need to eat those.

Alison Ladman is a chef, food writer and recipe developer for The Associated Press.

Rolled Gingerbread Cookies

This recipe was adapted from the 1956 edition of “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book.” Non-trans-fat shortening contains more water, so if you are using old-style trans-fat shortening, cut back the flour by 1/4 cup. It can be doubled, but in that case a heavy-duty stand mixer is essential.

Note: Don’t use insulated cookie sheets for this recipe — they don’t get hot enough.

For cookies:

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup packed brown cane sugar

1 1/2 cups (one 12-ounce bottle) dark molasses

2/3 cup cold water

6 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

For icing:

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons water, or enough to make icing easy to spread without being drippy

Food coloring, optional

Decors such as Red Hots, colored sugar, jimmies and holiday sprinkles

Mix the shortening, sugar and molasses thoroughly in a large bowl. Blend in the water — the mixture will look curdled, but that’s OK.

Whisk the flour, soda, salt and spices together in a separate bowl. Add the flour mixture to the molasses mixture by thirds until flour is thoroughly incorporated.

Chill dough for a least an hour, but longer (even overnight) is better. The dough will be fairly sticky still.

Roll out thick to very thick on a generously floured cloth — about 1/3-inch thick seems to work best. Dip cookie cutters in flour before cutting.

Place cookies on a lightly greased baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between them. Bake at 350 degrees until, when touched lightly with finger, no imprint remains, about 12-14 minutes. (Tops will be very lightly cracked.)

For icing, stir ingredients together and, if desired, add food coloring. If icing gets too thick to spread, add a few drops of water and stir well. Makes about 3 dozen, depending on size of cutters.

Per serving: 184 calories; 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat; 10 percent calories from fat); 39 g carbohydrates; 22 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 142 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Date Turnovers


1 cup butter softened to room temperature

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cups quick oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cup of Medjool dates (17-19 dates)

1 1/2 tablespoon honey

1/2 cup water

1/3 teaspoon cinnamon

Dash salt

Make the date filling first by placing dates into a pot with 1/3 cup of water and honey and bring to a boil then turn down heat to a low simmer and stir constantly until the dates begin to break down. After stirring about 8-10 minutes the dates will breakdown into a thick paste. At that point add the cinnamon and salt while continuing to stir until evenly incorporated. Remove from the stove and pick out the seeds then pour the contents into a bowl and allow the filling to cool for 45 min to an hour before using.

For the dough combine butter and brown sugar in a bowl and whip with a mixer at med high speed until the butter sugar mixture is fluffy and light, at least 10 minutes.

Add the egg, milk and vanilla into the butter sugar mixture and beat at med high speed for an additional 3 minutes until well combined.

In a separate bowl add flour, baking soda, salt and sift to combine.

Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture in two batches and fold together by hand with a large wooded spoon.

Then add the Quick Oats and fold together until evenly incorporated. The dough ball should be a somewhat wet sticky mixture.

Using a 18-24 inch long piece of Cling wrap, wrap up the dough ball and place into the fridge for at least 45 minutes to stiffen up the dough to make it easier to work with.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

After removing the dough ball from the fridge open it up and place onto a lightly floured surface and lightly dust the top of the dough ball with flour and roll it out to approximately 1/8 inch.

Using a 3-3 1/2 inch circular cutter cut out the turnovers and place a heaping teaspoon full of the date filling on half of the circle then fold over the other half and place onto a wax paper lined cookie tray.

Reform the remnants into a ball and repeat the rolling, cutting and forming.

Place the turnovers in the oven for 25 minutes. If you prefer a softer turnover take it out at 20 minutes.

Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serves 24.

Per serving: 194 calories; 9 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 42 percent calories from fat); 27 g carbohydrates; 12 g sugar; 28 mg cholesterol; 220 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Sugar Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon milk

Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week. Serves 12.

Per serving (three cookies): 327 calories; 16 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 42 g carbohydrates; 18 g sugar; 56 mg cholesterol; 80 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Crispy Almond Cookies

Pete Loren, Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace

This recipe is somewhat similar to a recipe called Chinese Almond Cookies with the exception that my recipe uses ground almonds instead of almond paste and uses sliced almonds on top instead of one whole almond. All in all, I personally like this recipe because it has more almond flavor. Another option for this cookie is to drizzle the finished cookies with semi-sweet chocolate coating.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shortening (such as Crisco)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 extra large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoon warm water

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 cup ground almonds

1/2 cup sliced almonds

In a large bowl, cream together the shortening, and sugar.

Separate the eggs and refrigerate the whites.

Mix in the egg yolks and almond extract into the creamed shortening and sugar.

Dissolve the baking soda in the water, and stir into the creamed mixture along with the milk.

Combine the flour, cream of tartar and salt; gradually stir into the sugar mixture.

Stir in the ground almonds.

Roll the dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the dough into 1/4 inch thick slices and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Brush each cookie with beaten egg whites then sprinkle with the sliced almonds and with sugar.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes, or until lightly colored. Let cool on wire racks. Makes 24 Cookies.

Per serving: 124 calories; 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 14 g carbohydrates; 7 g sugar; 16 mg cholesterol; 97 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Caramel Cherry Pistachio Cookies

Pete Loren, Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace

3/4 cup salted butter, softened

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 extra large egg, at room temperature

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup white chocolate chips

1/3 cup caramels, cut into quarter-inch pieces

3/4 cup sun-dried cherries

1/2 cup shelled pistachios

In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on medium speed in a large bowl until completely smooth and creamy.

Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar and mix on medium high speed until fluffy and light in color.

Beat in egg and vanilla on high speed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt together until combined. On low speed, slowly mix into the wet ingredients until combined. The cookie dough will be quite thick.

Add the white chocolate chips, sun-dried cherries, caramel pieces, and pistachios.

Mix on low for about 5-10 seconds until evenly disbursed.

Cover dough tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. (Chilling is mandatory for this cookie dough.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Line baking pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Knead the stiff dough for one minute then scoop and roll balls of dough, about 1 tablespoon of dough each, into balls.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges. They will look extremely soft when you remove them from the oven.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet. If the cookies are too puffy, try gently pressing down on them with the back of a fork.

Per serving: 212 calories; 10 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 42 percent calories from fat); 25 g carbohydrates; 9 g sugar; 26 mg cholesterol; 104 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 1 g fiber.