Our food editors share their top ten pieces of advice.
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chocolate dipped meringue kisses
Credit: Anita Calero

Our food editors have made hundreds—no, thousands—of holiday cookies and confections over the years, so it should come as no surprise that they've picked up plenty of tricks along the way. Here, our test kitchen team share their secrets, as well as a big batch of time-tested (and retested) wisdom, from their flour-dusted kitchens to yours. Heed their advice and you're practically guaranteed your very best batch of cookies yet.

Measure Precisely

It might sound pretty basic, but measuring is essential for good results. Baking is as much chemistry as it is art, so don't eyeball it. Use a handled dry-measure cup for dry ingredients, but not as a scoop: Instead, spoon flour into it and pile it above the rim, then sweep the top with a knife to level it, sending the excess back into the canister. For wet ingredients, use clear, spouted cups and the old high school chem-lab move: Lower yourself to eye level with the lines for accuracy.

Heed the Room-Temperature Rule

Working with room-temperature ingredients when baking really is worth the effort (and foresight). For properly creamed cookie dough, your eggs need to be room temperature and your butter softened. Ideally, you can leave them on a counter for a few hours before baking, but if time doesn't permit, there are a few speedy cheats you can employ. For eggs, fill a medium-size bowl with warm water, and let them sit in it for five to ten minutes. They're good to go when they no longer feel chilled to the touch after you remove them.

If it's the butter that you forgot to pull out of the fridge, place a stick on a small plate and microwave it on low power in five-second increments, flipping it from side to side as you go; check it frequently to make sure it isn't starting to liquefy.

Whisk, Don't Sift

Older recipes often call for sifting dry ingredients to thoroughly combine them, aerate the mixture, and get rid of clumps, but whisking works just as well, and it saves you from hand cramps. The one exception is cake flour: It tends to stick together, so we shake it through a sieve while lightly tapping the side.

Nail the Timing

When you're prepping multiple batches and/or recipes, it's easy to lose track of when something needs to come out of the oven (or the fridge, if you're chilling dough). That's why we rely on multiple timers. Set them on your phone or smart-home device; we find they're the most reliable.

Take Precise Temps

Buy an oven thermometer and replace it once a year (they get less accurate over time). To cook sugar for candies or fry sufganiyot for Hanukkah, you'll need a candy (sometimes labeled "deep-fry") thermometer. To check its accuracy, place it in a small pot of water and bring it to a boil. It should always read 212° F at sea level (the boiling point is lower at higher elevations; check your altitude). If not, buy a new one.

roll cookie dough parchment paper
Credit: Lennart Weibull

Roll Dough with Ease

The trick for cookie dough is placing it between two sheets of floured parchment paper and rolling it out immediately after mixing, when it's at peak pliability. First, flour a piece of parchment and lay the mound of dough on top. Dust the dough with flour and place the second piece of parchment on top. Roll until the dough starts to stick to the paper, then lift the parchment off it, dust with a bit more flour, and replace the paper. Flip the entire package over and repeat these steps on the other side. Continue until the dough reaches your desired thickness.

granulated sugar and brown sugar in bowl
Credit: Lennart Weibull

Mix Sizes of Sugar

This decorating secret prevents bald spots and deposits extra sparkle: Combine two different sanding sugars, fine and coarse. Roll a slice-and-bake log in the mixture for glittery edges, or dust it on round cookies or spritzes with your fingers, like you're sprinkling salt. Sarah Carey, our editorial director of food, likes to use unexpected colors, like hot pink or metallic silver, to jazz up her gift boxes.

Stay in Shape

Want to make picture-perfect cookies every time? We have four tips for different shapes. First, there's the slice-and-bake method. For round treats, like our Brown-Sugar Chocolate-Chunk Shortbread, snip down the length of an empty paper-towel tube, put the dough inside, and tape shut so it holds a cylinder shape (meaning it doesn't flatten on the bottom side) while chilling. After slicing, reshape the rounds into neat circles if needed. Next up is the drop method. For this one, you'll need to grab an ice cream scoop, which makes quick work of measuring and ensures consistently sized cookies. Bonus tip: You can freeze scooped balls in a single layer and transfer them to freezer bags for dessert on demand (add a few minutes of baking time).

Of course, there's the cookie cutter method. The key to clean edges when working with cookie cutters is chilling the dough twice: Once after rolling it and again after stamping out the shapes. Halfway through baking, take the pans out, bang them a few times on the counter, and return them to the oven. This flattens the cookies for easy decorating. Last but not least, there's the thumbprint method. As the name implies, you'll press a finger into the dough to make indentations. Halfway through baking, reshape each one with the handle of a large wooden spoon to ensure deep, round wells for the jam.

Do the Shuffle

For even results (no pale, sad strays), always rotate cookie sheets from top rack to bottom (if using more than one at a time) and back to front halfway through baking time. Also, you don't have to make your cookies the exact size called for in the recipe, but if you deviate, start with a small test batch to gauge the proper cooking time.

Yes, You Pecan!

Want to get nutty with your cookies? We've got three tips to help you prep nuts like a pro. First, taste them: You'd be surprised how quickly nuts go rancid. To prevent that bitter end, store them in the refrigerator or freezer, and always try one before you start a recipe. Next, be sure to toast them. This enhances their flavor and aroma. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet, then bake at 350°F until fragrant and golden all the way through, 10 to 12 minutes (check often!), or a bit longer if they started frozen. Last but not least, chop them. The test kitchen's favorite tool for the job is an offset serrated knife. The notches make quick work of craggy nuts (and chocolate, too), and the raised handle keeps fingers clear of your work surface.

To Temper or Not to Temper?

Slowly heating and cooling chocolate while stirring it provides a snappy texture and a beautifully shiny, professional appearance. It also results in a longer-lasting treat: Candy made with tempered chocolate (or cookies dipped in it) can sit at room temperature without developing a white coating, known as a bloom. The process isn't hard, but it takes time and precision—and requires a special thermometer—so over the years, bakers have come up with shortcuts that approximate the results. The simplest: Stir a tablespoon of shortening into 12 ounces of melted chocolate; confections made with this combination should be refrigerated to avoid blooming.

How to Compose the Perfect Cookie Box?

Sarah says, "I plan my treat boxes with balance in mind. A 'perfect' box has chewy, crunchy, and tender textures (and sometimes something creamy, like a fudge or truffle), and a mix of spice, chocolate, and fruit. I like to combine interesting shapes, too: irregular drop cookies, rolled-and-cut sugar or gingerbread cookies, and biscotti."

Get Good Gear

A few inexpensive additions can make all the difference to your next baking session. Stock up on these must-haves, then start baking.

aluminum cookie sheet
Credit: Courtesy of Nordicware

Aluminum Cookie Sheets

First, a few features to avoid: rimmed sheets, which inhibit air circulation and hold fewer cookies; nonstick coatings, which can burn bottoms due to their darker color; and insulated ones, which can slow baking times. Our pick is this large cookie sheet from Nordicware.

Shop Now: Nordicware Naturals Large Classic Cookie Sheet, $19, nordicware.com.

nonstick baking mat
Credit: Lennart Weibull

Nonstick Baking Mats

Parchment paper prevents stuck-on cookies and makes cleanup a snap, as do Silpat mats, seen here. They're dishwasher-safe and last for ages

Shop Now: Silpat Mat, $27.95, surlatable.com.

ultrathin cookie spatula
Credit: Lennart Weibull

Ultrathin Cookie Spatula

A must for delicate cookies (it's great for frying eggs, too). Our favorite cookie spatula is made by Ateco and has a super-flexible stainless steel blade that slides right under baked goods

Shop Now: Ateco #1352 11-inch Stainless Steel Flexible Solid Spatula / Turner, $15, amazon.com.


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