The bakers of King Arthur are here to solve the kitchen conundrums you share with us, whether it’s on the phone, computer, or by the good old postal service. In Ask the Baker’s Hotline, Annabelle will pick the brains of the talented King Arthur Baker’s Hotline team to tackle some of your most-asked questions.
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With jolly music in every store and twinkly lights as far as the eye can see, we have the urge to break out the butter and bake more cookies than we can count. There's plenty of baking ahead, so you may be wondering: Is it ever too early to get a head start making holiday cookie dough?
Amanda Schlarbaum from our Baker’s Hotline says you can absolutely start making your dough right now. In fact, prepping and refrigerating cookie dough not only saves you time, but it can actually enhance the flavor and texture of some of your favorite recipes.
That said, Amanda has some do’s and don’ts (dough’s and don’ts, if you will) about make-ahead cookies. For instance, which cookie doughs can be stored in the fridge for days? How long can they be chilled before baking? Does the amount of time they spend in the fridge affect the final bake? Below, Amanda shares her answers to these questions, plus some expert tips on make-ahead dough.
Fridge-friendly recipes to make ahead: Drop cookies and roll-out cookies
According to Amanda, many of your favorite cookies will likely benefit from a little chill time in the fridge. Drop cookies (cookies that you typically scoop and “drop” onto a sheet pan to bake) include classics like Snickerdoodles, Gingersnaps, and Classic Peanut Butter Cookies just to name a few. Roll-out cookie recipes are just as they sound: cookies that get the rolling pin treatment. Think Sugar Cookies, Linzer Cookies, or even Gingerbread that’s destined to become a house. Dough for all of these can be prepared then stashed in the fridge for days before baking.
Skip the fridge and bake immediately: Meringues and tuiles
Not all cookies can be prepped ahead and baked later. Amanda shares, “Meringue-based cookies and lace or tuile cookies should always be baked immediately or per the directions on the recipe. Egg whites don’t wait!” This includes favorite recipes such as Macarons, Meringue Kisses, and Lace Cookies.
The benefits of refrigerating your cookie dough
It allows the fats in your dough to solidify, preventing your cookies from spreading too much. Amanda says, “This is especially helpful with cookies that need to hold their shape like Roll-Out Sugar Cookies, Gingerbread, or Springerle.”
A rest in the fridge makes for a more flavorful cookie, as the ingredients have time to mingle and meld with each other. “You will probably notice stronger notes of whatever extract or zest you add to your dough.”
So how long can you store cookie dough in the fridge?
With all these benefits, you might think the longer, the better. But there is a limit.
“Basic drop or roll-out cookies can be refrigerated for up to five days,” Amanda shares. The longer the dough chills, the more pronounced the deeper browning and enhanced flavors described above will be — so a cookie baked on day 4 will likely be even more flavorful and browned than one baked on day 1. Learn more about the science behind chilling cookie dough here.
“After five days, however, the dough takes on odors and flavors from the fridge,” warns Amanda. “It can also oxidize, turning a grayish color, and your cookies may not rise or spread as nicely. If you want to wait more than five days to bake your drop or roll-out cookies, I recommend freezing them.” Check out our tips on freezing cookie dough if you really want to plan ahead.
Tips for chilling and baking cookies with ease
Scoop your drop cookies before putting them in the fridge. Your wrist will thank you when you aren’t trying to scoop rock-hard dough!
No need to bring dough to room temperature before baking — your cookies are good to go into the oven straight from the fridge.
When making roll-out cookies, split the dough into two or three discs. “Rolling the dough is easier in smaller batches, and the rest of the dough can stay in the fridge until you’re ready for it,” Amanda says.
For beautiful definition and minimal spread, re-chill roll-out cookies after cutting them out. “Get those cookies good and cold. Then put them in the oven.”
If your cookies will be baked with a filling like jam or chocolate hazelnut spread, wait to fill them until just before you bake. Chill the dough on its own.
While you don’t want to make a batch of cookie dough today and keep it in the fridge for weeks on end (that would be some seriously impressive restraint!), this delicious and festive tradition doesn’t have to be left until the last minute, either. In fact, with the bustling schedules that come with this time of year, cookie dough prep may just be the best gift you can give yourself.
Got a question you'd like answered? Drop it in the comments below, and I’ll see you next time with more baking insights from the King Arthur Baker’s Hotline!