Amid the seasonal bustle of decorating, shopping, wrapping, and running around, nothing provides a better respite than a day of baking cookies. Even if you have all the best ingredients, you still need solid know-how for the big day. These tips from master bakers will help you make the best cookies ever—this holiday season, and all year long.
“Take a moment to go through your pantry and see what you have in stock before you start baking. Also, check your tools. There’s nothing more annoying and disheartening than not having what you need when you need it.” —Angela Pinkerton, pastry chef, San Francisco.
“For bar cookies, line your pans with nonstick foil. It’s great for preventing stuck-on crud. Turn the pan upside down, and then mold a length of foil, nonstick side down, over the bottom of the pan, starting in the center and working out to get the foil to mold tightly over the edges (Watch a video of how to do this). Make sure to use enough to leave a little overhang. Remove the foil, flip the pan over, and press the shaped foil into the pan. After the bars are baked and cooled, use the foil overhang to lift the bars out, then slice.” —Sharyn Harding, pastry chef, Prime + Proper, Detroit
“Always use good-quality unsalted butter, especially with shortbread, since butter is the primary flavor. Unsalted butter also allows you to better control the saltiness of your batter.” —Laurel Almerinda, director of bakery operations, Rustic Canyon restaurants, Los Angeles
“If you’re making a basic cookie dough, consider splitting the dough before folding in chips or nuts. Add chocolate chips to one half and Heath Bar chunks and toasted pecans to the other half. Then you can get two kinds of cookies from one batch of dough.” —Aya Fukai, executive pastry chef, Maple & Ash, Chicago
“Avoid silicone liners for most cookies. They encourage cookies to spread before they should.” —Mathew Rice, pastry chef, Niche Food Group, St. Louis
“Usually, demerara sugar—a coarse sugar—is used for sprinkling on top of cookies to add crunch. I like to cream demerara sugar right into cookie dough to add a crunchy texture to the center.” —Megan Garrelts, executive pastry chef, Rye KC, Leawood, KS
“If you’re using a stand mixer, finish the last of the mixing by hand. There’s always some unmixed butter and sugar at the bottom of the bowl.”—Amanee Neirouz, executive chef, Tristan Catering, Charleston, SC
“To make soft, chewy cookies, swap some bread flour for all-purpose.” —Ji Hyun Yoon, executive pastry chef, GreenRiver, Chicago
“Let drop-cookie dough rest in the refrigerator at least six hours or overnight. You’ll get cookies with a more uniform shape, and they won’t flatten.”—Svetlana Almonte, SW Steakhouse, Las Vegas
“Add flavorings—salt, vanilla, other extracts, citrus zests—to the butter at the beginning of the dough-making process. Fat absorbs flavor better than other ingredients, so you’ll get more bang for your buck.” —Scott Green, pastry chef, Travelle Kitchen + Bar, Chicago
“Make big batches of cookie dough, portion them into desired sizes with an ice cream scoop, and then freeze. You’ll have cookie dough ready to go when guests stop by. You can even prep a bunch of your favorite cookie doughs this way for your big baking day.” —Zac Young, pastry director, Craveable Hospitality Group, New York
“Follow the recipe, but rely on your senses when baking. Pay attention to how things look, feel, smell, and taste.”—Sherry Blockinger, owner, Sherry B Dessert Studio, Chappaqua, NY
“In chocolate chip cookie recipes, replace most of the granulated sugar with dark brown sugar, and use melted butter in place of softened. You’ll get much chewier cookies.” —Patrick Wellman, pastry chef, The Catbird Seat, Nashville
“I like to bake cookies at higher temperatures and for shorter times than traditional recipes call for. This creates a cookie with crisp edges and a chewy center, which I think makes a really good cookie.” —Andy Jin, executive pastry chef, Wynn Las Vegas