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Perfect Holiday Cookie Techniques

Martha Stewart Living, Volume 145 December 2005

Cookies are ideal for wrapping with ribbons, tucking into stockings, bartering at baking swaps, and giving as homemade gifts -- you never can bake too many around the holidays. We've collected some of our tips for making delectable cookies to use with your own favorites or to apply to one of our recipes: chewy bourbon-scented drop cookies, sparkly rolled coconut cookies, or crisp, rich mocha cookies.

Bourbon Pecan Chews
Coconut Sugar Cookies
Mocha Slice Cookies

Drop Cookie Techniques
The dough for quick, uncomplicated drop cookies often can be whipped up at the last minute -- or kept frozen for weeks.

Before dropping dough, make sure it's slightly firm. If it's too soft and sticky to drop easily from a spoon, chill it briefly.

A small ice cream scoop makes for quick work and even results. Be sure to use the scoop size the recipe calls for -- measure its capacity with water.

To ensure cookies remain separate and nicely shaped, follow the guidelines given in a recipe for spacing mounds of dough on the baking sheet. Two inches usually will keep them apart; butter-heavy doughs and those with little leavening sometimes need more space.

You can freeze unbaked mounds of cookie dough on baking sheets, then transfer mounds to resealable freezer bags or airtight containers and return to freezer for up to one month. Bake according to recipe instructions.

Cool drop cookies on sheets for a minute or two to set, then on wire racks spaced apart slightly. This prevents the cookies from sticking to one another.

Rolled Cookie Techniques
Mix the cookie dough, chill it well, then roll, chill, cut, bake, and decorate it.

Working with cold dough is crucial -- it's easier to handle and won't stick to the rolling pin and work surface. Roll out manageable amounts at a time, and keep the rest chilled in the refrigerator.

Instead of dusting your work surface generously, roll out dough between two sheets of very lightly floured parchment paper; you'll use less flour, which can dry and harden the cookies. Also, dip cutters in flour or cocoa after cutting out each shape to prevent sticking.

Cold dough will hold its shape better as it bakes. Stack rolled sheets of cookie dough between parchment paper on a baking sheet. Chill the sheet for at least thirty minutes in the refrigerator or the freezer before creating desired shapes with cookie cutters.

Cut out cookies as close together as possible to avoid rerolling the scraps, which toughens the dough. For example, cut right- side up candy canes next to upside down ones to maximize the number of cookies per batch.

Transfer cut cookie dough to baking sheets using a spatula that is larger than the cutout. This will help keep its shape.

To turn rolled-out cookies into hanging decorations, use a skewer or toothpick to make a hole in each cookie before baking.

Sliced Cookie Techniques
Refrigerator cookies are made with dough that is rolled into logs that you keep on hand in the freezer and then slice and bake as you desire.

Use cold hands to form the dough into a rough log, then place it on a sheet of parchment paper. Roll the dough in the paper, using a ruler to compact the log into an even, smooth shape and to squeeze out air as you go.

To maintain parchment-wrapped logs' shape, slide them into empty cardboard paper towel tubes before chilling. If the logs are too thick to fit, simply cut along the length of the tubes and wrap them around the dough logs.

Chill the logs until very firm before slicing. Most doughs can be frozen for up to a month. Use a sharp, heavy knife to make the cleanest slices; wipe the knife between each slice.

Before rolling logs in sanding sugar, nuts, coconut, or other coatings, brush the perimeter with water. This will help the coating adhere to the dough.


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