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Keys to Perfect Holiday Cookies

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2011

Basic butter cookies are the perfect template for decorating—provided you start with a dough that’s tailor-made for rolling, cutting, and embellishing. Follow these guidelines for cookies that look their holiday best.

START WITH THE RIGHT DOUGH

Rolling out the dough is usually sticky business, and the typical solution—adding more flour—makes for tough cookies.

The Keys to a Foolproof Dough:

  • Just enough butter for tenderness and rich flavor.
  • Superfine sugar for a tight, compact crumb.
  • Cream cheese to add subtle tang. And since it is softer than butter when chilled, it makes the dough easier to roll out.
  • A “reverse” creaming method—in which the butter is beaten into the flour and sugar rather than creamed with the sugar—makes for flatter cookies that are easier to decorate.

 

ROLL WITH THE RIGHT TECHNIQUES

DO roll dough between sheets of parchment paper

Handling the dough causes it to warm up and become tacky. To prevent it from sticking to the counter—and to the rolling pin—roll it between two large pieces of parchment paper.

DON’T skip the chill after rolling

Cold, stiff dough will cut more cleanly than dough that’s soft. Slide the bottom piece of parchment with the rolled dough onto a baking sheet to keep it flat, and refrigerate until firm, 10 minutes.

DO minimize scraps

Cut shapes close together, starting from the outside and working your way to the middle. When making large and small cookies, we alternate cutters as we stamp to use as much dough as possible.

DO peel away dough scraps—not the cookie

Use a small spatula to strip away the dough scraps from around the cookies. With excess dough out of the way, it is easier to cleanly lift the cookies and transfer them to a baking sheet.

DON’T reroll more than once

Dough scraps may be packed into a ball and rerolled one time; working the dough any more will develop too much gluten and produce tough cookies. Make sure to chill the dough again before rolling and again before cutting.