an easier way to make cookies
Pretty much everything terrible about making cookies comes down to one thing: deciding you want a cookie and realizing that the expanse between now and when you get to eat said is unfairly wide.
• Butter needs to be softened. Is your kitchen really cold today? Have fun with that.
• The butter needs to be “creamed” with sugar until “light and fluffy.” Some recipes want you to do this for many, many minutes. Some recipes think you are bored.
• Once your dough is made, it needs to be formed into packets and chilled in the fridge for “at least two hours” but “preferably overnight.” Remember when you said you wanted a cookie? You meant tomorrow, right?
• The next day, you get to flour your counter and remove a brick of dough and fight, fight, fight it flat. It’s going to crack at the edges. It’s going to stick to the counter, something I usually don’t realize until I’ve already cut out all my cookie shapes. It’s often mush by the time the dough is even and flat, which leads to less sharp cookie shapes that are harder to transfer.
• Oh, and cookie cutters! Maybe you have a tesselated (hat tip) cookie cutter? Fantastic idea, but I do not. Maybe you have one of these and want a cute grid of cookies? Also good thinking. But for most of us, there’s a specific shape we want or need and it always leaves negative spaces. So, when you’re done with the first layer of dough you get to re-gather the scraps except they’re soft now and need to be chilled again so you can roll them out again. The second batch of cookies has absorbed a lot more flour and is usually not as great. Plus, more scraps to re-chill and roll. At some point — we all do this, right? — I either bake an misshapen last blob of cookie dough or drop the last piece in the garbage because the though of rolling another cookie no longer sparks any joy.
And guys, we do all this before we even get to the fun stuff: icing and sprinkles.
There’s an easier way. I’ve been talking about it in bits and pieces over the last year or so (see: Rugelach, Icebox Cake and Confetti Cookies) but I’ve never gathered this information in one bossy post that I think we should tell everyone we know that has ever made a cookie before (or decided not to because of the above) about.
3 Steps To Easier Cookies [Thus, More Cookies In Your Life]
You can skip softening your butter. Whether you make cookie dough in a stand mixer, with a hand-mixer or (my favorite) in a food processor, you can save time by cutting your cold butter into chunks and letting the machine bang it together with the sugar until soft. It will be bumpy at first and you’ll need to scrape a few times to make sure no nubby cold bits remain but within a minute or two, the butter just right for the rest of the ingredients. It doesn’t just save time, it makes for a cooler, firmer dough that’s going to take less time to chill.
You can skip the refrigerator chill. And…
You can skip flouring your counter. As soon as my cookie dough is made, I roll it out between two large sheets of parchment paper to the desired thickness and it’s a total breeze. No flouring (which can toughen the dough). No pre-chilling (which takes so much more time). No fighting the cold dough flat (which makes us grumpy). Then, I slide this onto a baking sheet and pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes (or a day, or a week, or months until needed), until firm and cut the cookies in clean, sharp shapes from this. I then use these parchment sheets to line my baking sheets. (No waste!) Extra dough scraps can be easily rerolled and re-chilled the same way, with no erosion in dough quality because it doesn’t absorb extra flour. Bonus: No floury mess to clean up.
A couple extra tips: As you roll your dough between parchment sheets, some creases will form; pull the sheet loose so they don’t etch into the dough. When you remove your “board” of dough from the freezer, gently loosen/peel the sheet that will be the underside of the dough before placing the dough back on it. This bit of air ensures that your cookies, once cut, will come right off with no “peeling” needed. (Although even if peeling is needed, it too is a cinch with cold dough on parchment.)
The giant caveat: Does this mean all cookie recipes can back hacked with the above methods and work the same? Haha, no, I do not have a test kitchen where I have checked all cookie recipes, ever. (But what a magical place it would be!) I can tell you that this has worked with every cookie I’ve tried it with. If you’re curious and you want a cookie (of course you do), I think it’s worth finding out.
Today’s starring cookie: Eleven years ago (does this blog make me look old?) we talked on this site about the great Poilâne bakery in Paris and their way-less-famous but, in my opinion, equally worthy of adoration sable cookies called Punitions. These crisp and sandy, buttery, mildly sweet, golden-edged cookies are about as far as you can get from the ‘punishment’ they translate to. [Apparently, grandmothers would give them to grandchildren for their goûter (after-school snack), luring them in by teasing, “come and get your punishment!”] I was reading about them this week and decided it had been way too long since I last made them. Note the color: If you watch the oven like a hawk in the last minute or two while baking cookies, you can get just the right golden edge on them that will give the cookies so much more flavor. The pale cookies I showed in 2006 just don’t have the same nuance to them. Oh, and if you’re ever going to splurge on European-style salted butter for a recipe, it should be this one, because the flavor is all about the butter. [Punition recipe in the archives]
And a big thank-you: While I’ve used the cold butter method in bits and pieces over the years, it wasn’t until I spent a day with my favorite insanely talented cookie-baker and decorator, Gail Dosik a couple years ago that I saw her freezer full of cookie dough sheets and begged her to tell me all of her secrets that I began rolling my doughs warm and cutting them extra-cold. Making shaped cookies has never been easier. I am grateful for smart friends who share.
And another thank you: For all of your good cheer and great feedback on this week’s new big thing. We are all listening to you and will go forward with your ideas in mind.