Make Ahead

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

November 13, 2017

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.

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

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.

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

  • 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

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. 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.

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.)

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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 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.

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.

Order now

A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Erin Jeanne McDowell
    Erin Jeanne McDowell
  • BerryBaby
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Erin J. November 27, 2017
Just reading this for the first time - thanks for your lending me some of your magic in the way of your wonderful words <3
BerryBaby November 13, 2017
Oatmeal chocolate cookie balls. From freezer to oven 400 degrees 8-10 minutes fresh cookies.
I also keep mini frosted cupcakes in the freezer. Whenever you want a treat, they are ready!😋