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7 Crucial Tips For Baking Perfect Holiday Cookies

The Chatelaine kitchen shares our top baking secrets to ensure your holiday cookies turn out perfect every single time.

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Gingerbread Cookies - Perfect Christmas Cookies

Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Holiday baking can be a pleasurable, stress-relieving activity … until your cookies turn out crumbly, burnt or too dense and you don’t know why. Here are seven handy tips to skip all that frustration and proceed directly to turning out beautiful cookies and baked goods this season:

maple squares and cubed butter

Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Soften The Butter

The temperature of the butter is crucial in cookie dough. Butter that is too cold or warm won’t whip enough to incorporate the right amount of air, leading to dense cookies. Plan ahead and bring your butter to room temperature before beginning to bake. (Room temperature butter should be pliable; and a finger should easily indent the butter.) Here are three ways to ensure your butter is ready for baking:

1. Leave it out on the counter for 2 to 3 hours, or overnight.

2. Cut refrigerated butter into small pieces to increase the surface area, then leave at room temperature for about 1 hour.

3. Cut butter into small, uniformly-sized pieces, then spread out evenly on a plate. Microwave on low power in 15-second intervals, turning the pieces after each interval. (It should only take 2 to 3 intervals.)

Aerate The Dough

Creaming butter with sugar creates small air pockets, which aerates the dough and helps it rise in the oven — a key step for light cookies.

Using a hand beater or a stand mixer is essential. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment unless the recipe specifies otherwise. Beat until the butter and sugar are pale yellow and fluffy. This usually takes about 3 minutes with a hand mixer on medium, and 2 minutes with a stand mixer on medium. Scrape the sides of the bowl periodically to ensure that all the butter is well-aerated.

measuring out flour - perfect baking. Image, Roberto Caruso.

Measure Flour Accurately

Baking requires precision, because even a small change in the recipe can impact the end result.

Always measure flour by scooping by it the spoonful from the flour container into a measuring cup, then levelling the top with a knife. This incorporates more air into the flour than using the measuring cup to scoop directly from the flour container.

Check The Oven Temperature

All ovens are slightly different and many don’t run true to temperature, so investing in an oven thermometer is super helpful (a few degrees difference can make a big difference to your cookies).

After checking the temperature, adjust the dial accordingly, or tweak the baking time called for in the recipe. Cookies are small and delicate and a few degrees or a minute of baking is the difference between under-baked, over-baked or juuuuuuust right.

jam pinwheel cookies - perfect christmas cookies

Image, Erik Putz.

Always Use Parchment Paper

Not only does it make clean up a cinch (no need to wash the baking sheet!), but it means you don’t need to grease the sheet and your cookies won’t stick.

Parchment actually acts as an insulator between the baking sheet and the cookie, and prevents over-browning. It also stops cookies from spreading too much (and merging into one giant cookie).

Kitchen Tip: Don’t throw out used parchment! It can be reused again and again until it’s worn out (as long as it’s clean). Reynold’s is our go-to brand in the test kitchen for its quality and durability.

Bake One Sheet At A Time

Many recipes don’t specify, but it is assumed that cookies are baked one sheet at a time. This is essential because it allows the heat to circulate properly, resulting in even browning. Unless otherwise noted, position the rack in the centre of the oven. Cookies continue to cook on the hot tray after they come out of the oven, so keep that in mind and remove as they are just starting to turn golden at the edges.

Perfect Christmas cookies: Double-chocolate sable cookies

Image, Erik Putz.

Use A Cooling Rack

We recommend letting the cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 2 minutes, just until they are firm enough to transfer to a cooling rack with a spatula. Transferring the cookies prevents over-baking from the residual heat of the baking sheet, and the rack allows faster cooling because air can circulate on all sides. It also results in crispier cookies, because condensation from steam let off by the cookies as they cool is absorbed into the bottoms when they’re left on a baking sheet, making them softer (this is also why you should remove cakes, loaves and muffins from their pans to cool).

Watch: How to make jam pinwheel cookies