There’s nothing I love more than learning some simple trick that makes a task easier.
I have always made my dough for butter cookies, gingerbread, and other cut-out cookies well in advance of holiday baking, tightly wrapping the disks of dough in plastic wrap and stashing them in the freezer until I was ready to bake and decorate.
And while do-ahead is a great practice for busy bakers, I never remembered to pull those rock-hard dough blocks from the freezer far enough in advance that they’d have time to thaw properly. Many were the years that I found myself pounding on a semi-frozen brick of gingerbread dough with a rolling pin, my impatient children looking on.
And then, of course, there’s the other problem: If you’re trying to make nice, clean cut-out cookies (using your favorite holiday cookie cutters, of course), the temperature of the dough matters. By the time it’s soft enough to roll easily, it’s often so sticky that when you attempt to lift a gingerbread person off the work surface it loses a limb.
So here’s the trick I recently learned: Right after you’ve mixed up your batch of butter cookie or gingerbread dough (or these chocolate cut-outs, eggnog cookies, or spice cookies), immediately plunk it onto a sheet of parchment paper. (If you have a large quantity of dough, divide it between a few sheets of parchment.) Top with a second sheet of parchment, then roll the dough to the specified thickness. (This special rolling pin can help get it even.) Pull off the top sheet of parchment, then slide the sheet of dough onto a baking sheet, then pop it in the freezer. (You can stack as many sheets of dough onto one baking sheet as you’d like.)
If you plan to store it for only a few hours or days, there’s no need to overwrap the baking sheet; for longer storage, wrap the entire baking sheet tightly with plastic wrap before freezing. The dough can hang out in the freezer for weeks; when you’re ready to bake your cookies, remove as many sheets of dough from the freezer as you’d like, let the dough stand at room temperature for five minutes, then use your favorite cutters to stamp out cookies; they’ll be easy to cut, will hold their shape, and won’t stick. Plus, your well-chilled cookies are less likely to spread in the oven while they bake. It’s a (minor) holiday miracle.
Ready to decorate your cookies? Learn our favorite decorating techniques.
Cover photograph (Gingerbread Cookies) by Rick Holbrook; food styling by Kaitlin Wayne