With less than two weeks (and counting!) left ’til the most cookie-centric holiday on the calendar, I’m sure all my baking peeps are knee-deep in flour, sugar, and butter right about now! So I’m spilling my best cookie baking secrets to you all, in the spirit of giving…
Almost every baking blog I visit has a post or a FAQ devoted to the subject, “How do you bake cookies that don’t spread all over the place in the oven, hold their pretty shape, and have nice, neat edges???” It was not too long ago that I was myself searching for the answer to this age-old cookier question. And when I want something, I do not rest until I’ve nailed it! After much research, and much experimentation, I’ve decided to put everything I’ve learned on this subject into one comprehensive post.
I do realize that after reading this post, there is a very good chance that your cookies will now be as pretty, if not even PRETTIER, than mine. (Yikes!) But when I really think about it, I have learned SO much from the many talented baker/bloggers out there, and they’ve given so generously! It’s because of them that I’ve been able to build this hobby/biz that I’m so fulfilled by! It simply would not be fair for me to keep this stuff to myself! It’s too good! And what’s the point of a blog like this anyway, if not to inspire???
So, let’s dive in!
I developed this cut-out cookie recipe myself, but based it on a few of my favorite cookie bloggers’ recipes.
LilaLoa: End-All for Chocolate Cookies
Sweetopia: Gingerbread Cookies
Bake at 350: Biscoff Cutouts (which I sometimes sub peanut or sunflower seed butter for the Biscoff- either way, hello, YUM!)
In Katrina’s Kitchen: Best Sugar Cookie Recipe
The Sweet Adventures of SugarBelle: Basic Sugar Cookie Recipe
The changes/tweaks/modifications I’ve made to their formulas produce cookies that are kinda soft, but a little crunchier around the edges, with a mouthfeel somewhere between a sugar cookie and a shortbread. Here is my basic vanilla recipe (gulp!):
- 2 sticks (1 cup) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup cornstarch
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Cream together the cold, cubed butter, the granulated sugar, and the salt.
- Add in the eggs and vanilla (or other flavorings/extracts).
- Add all the flour and cornstarch, and mix on low speed, until fully incorporated and forming a ball.
- Roll out to a thickness of 5/16 inch, cut into shapes, and bake for 12 minutes (for appox. 2½ inch cookie).
And now for some of my best tips:
1) Don’t Bother Softening the Butter
I like to use cold, cubed butter when I make the dough. Two reasons: 1) I’m lazy, and impatient, and I don’t always plan ahead. I don’t want to wait for the extra step of softening the butter. When that cookie baking urge strikes, I just want to go for it! 2) It also saves the step of chilling the dough before baking, which is another trick a lot of bakers use to help their cookies keep their shape. If you work quickly, the butter is still pretty cold when it goes into the oven, so the dough holds its shape better and doesn’t get all melty and slide all over the baking sheet.
2) Leave Out the Leavening
Now, you may notice that my recipe contains no leavening of any kind. If you think about the purpose of baking powder in a recipe, it’s to help things puff up and spread out (hello!?), and be light and fluffy. Light and fluffy is great in a muffin or a pancake, but we are talking cookies, here, people. They are meant to have a little bite to them. Perhaps they are a little bit heavier, but in this instance, you kinda want that. Odds are, you are either shipping your cookies or delivering them by car, and if they are too light and delicate, they’re more likely to break. So, this is going to give you a more durable cookie, and I promise you, they are still every bit as delicious.
3) Think Outside the Flavor Box
One of the best tips I can give you, is to think outside the box when it comes to flavors! Yes, a vanilla cookie will probably not offend anyone, but you don’t want to put everyone to sleep either! Let’s be honest, sugar cookies are fun to decorate, and everyone is always impressed by their beauty, but they aren’t always the most enticing offering on the dessert table. Why not jazz them up with some unique flavors? How about some peppermint in your chocolate cookies, some orange zest in your gingerbread, or even some lemon and thyme in your vanilla? People can’t help themselves but TRY it, if for no other reason than to satisfy their curiosity!
4) The Magic Ingredient
This is the biggest key to the whole business, and maybe the only thing that you won’t find on any other blog out there (that I’ve seen, anyway). THE CORNSTARCH. It’s pure witchcraft. I discovered it totally by accident, when searching for a way to make my gluten-free cookies less grainy and sandy textured. I had read that cornstarch can give shortbread a “meltaway” texture, and I thought I’d give it a go in my GF flour mix. It really does help, incidentally, but I also noticed that it made the dough SUCH a pleasure to work with! It is NOT sticky at all, nor is it crumbly. It just stays right where you want it.
And those edges! I about died…! SO clean and perfect! Now I use it in every kind of batch, in every flavor. I just can’t live without it. Try it, you’ll see! Just sub out a little of the flour for cornstarch, in any recipe. It’s like magic!
5) Make Parchment Your Bestie
Also, definitely try rolling your dough between two layers of parchment paper. It is absolutely no-muss no-fuss! Between the silky, UNcrumbly texture of this dough, and the parchment thing, I barely even need to wipe my countertops after making these cookies! **No bench flour!** (Which, by the way, can also make a tougher, less tender cookie.) I also line my baking sheets with it, and besides keeping things from sticking, it keeps the pans cleaner too! My cookies bake on parchment, and then I lay them on the same sheets to dry after decorating, so each sheet gets double duty. Here are the baking sheets I use, and here is where I order my parchment.
6) Crank Up the Oven Temperature
Finally, you may notice that I recommend baking the cookies at a higher temperature, for a shorter time. This allows the cookie to “set up” more quickly, and hold it’s shape during baking, so again, less melty-slidey.
I hope these tips and tricks inspire you to get out your mixer and create some beautiful holiday cookies. Honestly, there was a time when I felt daunted by the idea, but thanks to a lot of inspiration from the talented ladies I mentioned above, and now that I’ve worked out my recipe and this system, it’s totally painless!
Do you like to bake and decorate cookies at this time of year? What is your favorite kind to make? Have you struggled with too-spread-out cookies and sloppy edges? Do you have any sanity-saving tricks to make it easier? Please share!