Many sugar cookie recipes will ask you to chill the dough post-mixing—and for good reason. As baking buff Erin McDowellhas explained, room temperature butter is more likely than cold butter to glom onto the work surface (and, consequently, to require extra flour protection, leading to less tender cookies). Plus, when the dough rests under refrigeration, the protein strands relax and it becomes less susceptible to shrinking as you roll it, cut it, and bake it.
But, I have an issue: I find it terribly difficult to hammer down the now-hard dough to the intended thickness (and just as difficult to wait for it to thaw).
Once I've gotten to 1/4 inch or, heaven help me, 1/8 inch, I've re-warmed the dough up so much that it's glued to the surface, holding the gingerbread man's arms and legs hostage. No matter how much flour I add—and how much tougher I risk making the cookies—the integrity of the shapes is doomed.
Over the past three days, a small team of us baked 18 different sugar cookie recipes (more answers to your "What were you thinking?!" question later this month—just you wait!) and, in the process, came across a solution from Dorie Greenspan that will forever change the way we roll out dough. (No one is surprised.)
Instead of rolling the cookie dough post-chilling, Dorie suggests rolling it out pre-chilling, but between two sheets of parchment paper instead of on a floured work surface. Sandwiched by parchment, your very-pliable dough has no chance of latching onto your rolling pin or your kitchen counter. Once you've got it at your desired thickness, you can carry the flattened dough right on over to the refrigerator, where it can chill until firm. (If the dough slab is going to be too large, just cut it into pieces and stack them up with parchment dividers.)
You needn't have an expanse of clean marble or incredible forearm strength for nice-looking cookies! With parchment as protection, rolling out cookie dough has never been easier or neater.
And, bonus tip (!), since the dough is already on parchment paper, you can cut out the shapes you want, then let them remain in their same place: By pulling away the scraps around the cuts rather than trying to transfer the cookies themselves (in other words, by messing with the negative space and leaving the positive space alone), you'll keep your reindeer and snowmen perfectly intact. Reroll the scraps later.
A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.