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A Moment's-Notice Cookie That'll Make You Feel Like a Pastry Chef

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We're always on the hunt for back-pocket holiday hosting tips to make this time of year more about celebrating and less about stressing. We've partnered with If You Care to bring you recipes and techniques so that you're ready for the party—even if guests are on their way.

In the past, we've attributed Erin McDowell's pastry talents to magic: She's a dessert wizard, we've said, who calls on higher powers and mystical spirits (God of Sugar, Saint Butter, Flour Fairies) to conjure canelés and croissant loaves, danishes and petits-fours before most people in the Food52 office have had their first gulp of coffee.

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How else could she possibly do it, if not for supernatural abilities?

These cookies make us feel like magicians.
These cookies make us feel like magicians. Photo by Julia Gartland

Even though magic seems like the only possible explanation for the laminated, frosted, and latticed desserts that appear in Erin's wake, the reality is not quite as mysterious: Her piles of pastries are built upon incredible organization, resourcefulness, and a whole lot of knowledge. The good news? Erin has shared her tricks of the trade on nearly every page of her cookbook The Fearless Baker—which means that all of us can pick up on a little bit of her, ahem, magic.

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Drip Consistencies 101: How to Give Any Dessert "That Look" by Erin McDowell

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Inside the Stunning, User-Friendly Cookbook of the Most F... by Erin McDowell

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Pastry chefs and professional bakers, you'll see, make their craft appear effortless by...

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  • Compartmentalizing their dishes into component parts (pie dough, pie filling, egg wash; cake, buttercream, chocolate glaze; puff pastry, fruit filling, cream cheese piping)
  • Figuring out what can be made ahead and stored so that the finished product can come together at the snap of a finger
  • Being smart with the tools they use, employing plastic wrap, nonstick spray, baking sheets, fish tubs, plastic bags, toothpicks, skewers, aluminum foil, and parchment paper to their greatest degree
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5 Tips Obvious to Baking Experts, Surprising to the Rest ... by Sarah Jampel

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Our 52 Favorite Tips for Smarter Baking by Sarah Jampel

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The Fearless Baker is full of all sorts of recipe that follow those same principles: There are cookie doughs, icings, cakes, and doughs that you can keep on hand for when entertaining season gets hectic, along with smart tips that make the desserts achievable for mere mortals.

Sweet or savory? Give away or eat them ourselves? How 'bout both.
Sweet or savory? Give away or eat them ourselves? How 'bout both. Photo by Julia Gartland

Take these Lime Sablé Sandwiches: tender, buttery shortbreads glued together with a tangy cream cheese and white chocolate filling. They're ideal to keep in the freezer for moment's-notice cookies. You'll shape the cookie dough into a log using a sheet of parchment paper—and, of course, Erin has a trick to make it easier on yourself:

You need a big piece of parchment and a bench knife (or dough scraper; if you don’t have one of these, you can use the blade of a long offset spatula). Position the paper so a long side faces you, plop the dough onto the parchment, and form it into a rough log shape along that long side. (If the dough is very dry, lightly wet your hands to shape it; if the dough is very sticky, flour your hands.) Fold the parchment closest to you over the log. Press the bench knife firmly into the crease made by the paper folded over the log while pulling the parchment taut. Through the magic of pressure, the log will become smooth and even.

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5 Handy Facts About Baking with Parchment Paper by Alice Medrich

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The Fail-Safe Way to Line a Baking Pan with Parchment Paper by Teresa Floyd

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You can store the cookies in the freezer in their parchment sheath, letting them soften in the fridge a couple of hours before you want to slice and bake them. The parchment will pull away from the dough easily, leaving you with a neat log to slice into little rounds. (You could also slice the cookies into circles when you're first making the recipe, then freeze them on a baking sheet before packing them into a plastic bag to keep in the freezer.)

You can make the white chocolate filling several days in advance, but you can also easily customize the recipe according to your preferences and grocery stockpile:

  • Change the lime zest for grapefruit, lemon, or mandarin.
  • Flavor the dough with almond extract and sandwich with cherry jam.
  • Replace 1/3 cup of the all-purpose flour for rye.
  • Take it savory! We skipped the lime, reduced the amount of sugar to 1/4 cup, and added 1 cup of grated Parmesan, 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped thyme, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, and an additional 3/4 teaspoon salt, then sandwiched with tomato jam...it was glorious.

With a log of these sablés in the freezer, you can have adorable sandwich cookies whenever you want them (and maybe even before your guests notice that you didn't make anything for dessert). You'll feel like a little pastry wizard, too.

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Lime Sablé Sandwiches

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Makes about 20 sandwiches

For the sablés:

  • 113 grams (4 ounces/8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 28 grams (2 tablespoons) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 112 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) granulated sugar
  • 4 grams (2 teaspoons) grated lime zest
  • 54 grams egg yolks (2 large yolks)
  • 2 1/2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) vanilla extract
  • 241 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 gram (1/4 teaspoon) fine sea salt

For filling and assembly:

  • 198 grams (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 43 grams (1 1/2 ounces/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 28 grams (1/4 cup) confectioners' sugar
  • 2 grams (1 teaspoon) grated lime zest
  • 113 grams (4 ounces) white chocolate, chopped, melted, and slightly cooled
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What do you keep stashed in the freezer for semi-spontaneous desserts? Tell us in the comments below!

We're always on the hunt for back-pocket holiday hosting tips to make this time of year more about celebrating and less about stressing. We've partnered with If You Care to bring you recipes and techniques so that you're ready for the party—even if guests are on their way.

Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!
Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!

Tags: Erin McDowell, The Fearless Baker, sable, make ahead, freezer cookies, parchment paper