Whether you're baking cookies with your kids for Santa, for your friends, or just to have around during the holidays to share with your family, we brought you tips from baking pros to reinvent your tried-and-true recipes.
Roll Out Dough With Rulers
Rolling out dough freehand with a rolling pin can be tricky and create uneven spots. For the perfect thickness, executive pastry chef Nicolas Blouin of Destination Kohler recommends using 3/16-inch-thick rulers as guides by placing the rulers on each side of the dough before rolling your rolling pin across. "Your dough will stay the thickness of the rulers or whatever you choose to use as guides," he says. "Just make sure that your two objects are the same thickness to ensure even baking.”
Use Parchment Paper
Blouin also recommends rolling out dough between two pieces of parchment paper so you don't have to worry about your dough sticking to the counter or needing to flour your work surface. "Another advantage is that you can take the dough while still in the parchment and place it in your refrigerator to ensure that the dough is chilled when you are ready to cut out your shapes," he says. If you want to start a project and finish it later, your dough will be ready to cut and bake.
Infuse the Butter
At St. Regis Deer Valley, executive pastry chef Ashleigh Dougherty likes to infuse butter with herbs, flowers, vegetables, or nuts to impart extra layers of flavor in her sophisticated cookies. "You can infuse heavy whipping cream with anything you want by steeping ingredients into the cream, letting it cool, and then whipping it into butter," she says.
Make Your Recipe Vegan
There is no need for butter, milk, or eggs, to create decadent holiday cookies. Chloe Charlier, co-owner of gluten-free Santa Monica bakery Breadblok, swaps out butter with refined coconut oil to make dairy-free shortbread. At Uplifters Kitchen, Salima Saunders uses tahini, chia seeds, and olive oil to replace the butter and eggs that usually bind a cookie. "The combination of tahini and olive oil is about 1:1 with a butter replacement," she says. Here's a helpful tip to remember: "One tablespoon of chia seeds is a direct substitute for a chicken egg." You could also experiment with replacing one egg with 1 tablespoon of nut butter and using creamy plant-based beverages instead of milk (cashew, oat, hazelnut).
Make Natural Food Coloring
Charlier avoids artificial food coloring and instead uses natural plant-based derivatives in her baking. Red and green are the most popular colors around the holidays, and for red, Charlier recommends using beets, rather than raspberries or strawberries, which will produce a pink hue. For green, spirulina, chlorophyll, or matcha will work well. "Matcha will be the lightest green in color, followed by chlorophyll and spirulina which produces a dark forest green," she says. "We prefer using matcha as it has a better flavor profile."
Refrigerate Cookie Dough Overnight
Saunders refrigerates her cookie dough overnight before baking, too. "It leads to a really nice bake the next day," she says. "I find that they do not spread so much when we bake them, and they keep a nice doughy texture too." Make larger batches of dough, refrigerate, use what you need, and keep the rest of the unused dough in the fridge for a couple of days.
Bake Shortbread Whole
Jaci Koludrovic, the pastry chef at Strings of Life, loves baking shortbread in a tin. "This way it doesn't matter if the dough wants to spread," she says. "Then, portion it into cookies when it's still a little warm to prevent it from crumbling to a pile of sand." She also adds almond meal to her shortbread to help keep the biscuits moist. "I like almond meal as it's got a mild buttery flavor that doesn't dominate the other flavors."
Use Quality Chocolate
For chocolate chip cookies, the quality of your chocolate is critical. Consider buying a great chocolate bar and chopping it into small half-inch morsels rather than grabbing run-of-the-mill chocolate chips. "You definitely want to use craft chocolate in cookie dough because you want strong enough chocolate to withstand the sugar and butter in the dough," says pastry chef and bean-to-bar chocolate maker Roger Rodriguez of Vesta Chocolate. Use a good-quality chocolate bar that you'd eat as a treat.
Garnish With Salt
A sprinkling of vanilla finishing salt is the ideal accent to chef Nathan Beriau's vanilla shortbread cookies at Montage Palmetto Bluff. "It will help to cut the sweetness and balance everything out," he says. Extra-coarse Maldon salt flakes from Jacobsen Salt Co. are a favorite of pastry chefs like Ovenly's Agatha Kulaga. Find infused salts online or at specialty markets and experiment with a sprinkle of salts infused with saffron, Sriracha, fennel, lime, espresso, or chardonnay.