With a blizzard sweeping across much of the country today and tomorrow, and only four days before Christmas Eve, this weekend is shaping up to be prime cookie-making time. There are few things more tantalizing than the aroma of buttery sweet cookies baking in the oven, but as much as I love the ritual of holiday cookies, I do remember being frustrated as a kid when the shapes I’d cut out didn’t bake up the way I expected. Details disappeared as the dough puffed and spread in the oven. Snowflakes morphed into unrecognizable blobs. Stars bulged and lost their points.
I didn’t know then that the secret to clean-edged butter cookies is to chill the dough repeatedly after it’s rolled out. You want the dough firm and cold when you cut out the cookies, and when you transfer them to the baking sheet, and chilly again when you pop a sheet full into the oven. The freezer makes quick work of this process. Five minutes is often all you need to firm up the dough. The refrigerator can do it, but it takes a lot longer.
Always chill your rolled-out dough on a baking sheet or flat tray. It needs a firm foundation. Being able to fit a baking sheet of cookie dough into the freezer is the reason why I’m a fan of refrigerators with freezers that are either on top or on the bottom. Side-by-side door designs often don’t allow the space for a large baking sheet on the freezer side. If you’re a baker, keep that in mind if and when you renovate your kitchen.
So keep the mantra of chill, baby, chill in your head this weekend when you’re baking, but forget about it when you’re shoveling the snow! And if you’re looking for a terrific recipe for Christmas cookie cut-outs, we are crazy about the salted brown butter cookies pictured above.