It’s holiday time, you’re in a hurry…and the cookie jar is empty. But wait! You’ve got a log of lemon-lime butter wafer dough in the refrigerator, already made. All you need to do is slice and bake. Slice-and-bake cookies—what I called icebox or refrigerator cookies growing up—are the quickest way to fill the jar and to make fabulous cookies for sharing with friends and family.
Slice-and-bake cookies are delicious, eye-catching, and versatile. The recipes produce large yields, making them a perfect choice for cookie exchanges and gift giving. And best of all, slice-and-bake cookies are nothing if not do-ahead and convenient. After the dough is mixed and shaped into logs, it may be either refrigerated or frozen. You can make your dough well before the holiday rush sets in. Then, when you’re ready to bake, simply remove the logs from the freezer and set them in the refrigerator to thaw (for up to three days). Slice the dough into rounds, bake them, and voilà!—you’ll have batches of appealing, irresistible cookies. Just slice off as many cookies as you think you’ll need; any dough you don’t use can be refrozen.
These nifty cookies aren’t difficult to make, but a few pointers will ensure that your cookies come out beautifully.
Start with butter that’s softened at room temperature, but still firm. Starting with butter that’s too soft will result in dough that’s too soft, and thus trickier to shape into logs. If you’re using a stand mixer, the butter should be soft enough that pressing with your fingerrtips will leave a slight impression. If you’re using a hand-held mixer or mixing by hand, the butter should be just a little softer, so that pressing with your fingertips leaves a deep impression.
Mix just until the ingredients are blended. With these doughs, less mixing is definitely better than more, or you’ll end up with cookies that are less than tender.
Use a few tricks and tips for shaping the dough into perfect logs. The cookies will be delicious no matter how smoothly you shape them, but if you follow some pointers (see the sidebar), your cookies will be a little easier to shape and a little more uniform when baked.
Tricks and tips for shaping “logs” of dough
Once your dough is mixed, make sure it’s not too soft to shape. Stash it in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes or until it’s firm enough to handle. If it becomes too firm, just let it stand at room temperature until it’s malleable.
When shaping dough into cylinders, sprinkling a thin dusting of flour (no more than a teaspoon) on the rolling surface can help make the logs easier to handle.
Moistening your hands ever so slightly can make shaping easier.
Put the cylinders of dough on plastic wrap at least 6 inches longer than the length of the log.
Take care not to roll the logs any longer than 10 inches; dough that you’ll roll in nuts or other coatings will lengthen when coated, so start them off slightly shorter.
As you wrap the log in plastic, roll tightly and tug on the ends to tighten the plastic and to smooth any creases.
To secure the plastic, twist the ends well; then roll the dough back and forth to eliminate any air pockets.
To compact the log, push the ends of the cylinder firmly toward the center.
How far ahead can I make the cookie dough? How should I store it?
Logs of slice-and-bake cookie dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. For longer storage, put the logs in a airtight, zip-top bags and freeze for up to three months. To thaw the logs, put them in the refrigerator overnight. Any unused dough may be frozen again.
Use a sharp knife and a ruler for even slices. To cut even slices of cookie dough, lay a ruler alongside the log of dough. Use your sharpest thin-bladed knife and a continuous slicing motion if the log is uncoated. If it’s coated with nuts or other garnishes, use a small serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion for the cleanest cut.
Clever solutions for keeping your logs round
To keep your perfectly shaped round log from flattening out on the bottom while it chills, try these ideas:
Turn frequently. Put the logs on a level shelf or flat baking sheet in the refrigerator or freezer and turn each log every 15 minutes for the first hour. As the logs chill, the bottoms will flatten from the weight of the dough. To correct this, remold the logs by rolling them back and forth a few times on the countertop.
Use a cradle. If you happen to have a baguette pan, it makes a perfect cradle for chilling logs of dough. If you don’t, save a few empty paper towel rolls, cut each in half lengthwise to make two cardboard troughs with rounded bottoms, and then place a log in each half for chilling. For both of these methods, after the logs have chilled for 15 to 20minutes, turn them over once and chill until firm.