Everyone loves cut-out cookies for the holidays. What’s cuter on the cookie tray—and so much fun to decorate—than shapely sugar cookies? Think frosted ghosts and goblins and turkeys decked out in colorful candy starting October. Angels, stars, and dreidels are just around the corner. But face it, producing dozens of decoration-ready cookie shapes and characters just isn’t as speedy, neat, or efficient as making drop cookies or slice-and-bake refrigerator cookies. What’s a busy baker to do?
I tackle cut-out cookies by doing as much as possible in advance, even if only a day or two in advance. Here's the normal drill: Mix dough, wrap, and chill, which not only firms it up for rolling, but relaxes any gluten that may have developed in the mixing. Then, soften at room temp until pliable enough to roll, roll the dough on floured surface (scattering lots of flour around the room), cut out the shapes, transfer to baking sheets, bake while rerolling and cutting dough. Messy, right?
Now, I don’t mind a bit of last-minute effort, but I don’t like last-minute mess, flour flung all over the counter when I’m getting ready for company (even if only a horde of even messier cookie decorators!), or when I’m just busy or tired. Here’s how I organize cutout cookies to minimize the mess.
I break up the steps and do the messiest ones in advance, which means I don’t chill the dough after mixing. Instead, I roll soft (even gooey) dough between sheets of parchment—often with a dowel as a guide because it’s easy and precise and helps handle very soft or even impossibly gooey dough. Rolling dough between sheets of parchment prevents extra flour from being incorporated into the dough, and this also ensures more tender cookies. It eliminates the flour that gets scattered around the kitchen. I refrigerate (or even freeze) the sheets of dough, stacked on a cookie sheet. Chilling and resting the dough after rolling it also gets me cookies that hold a better shape, as well as saving mess and time on baking day.
When its time to bake, remove one sheet of dough from the fridge at a time. Peel off the top sheet of paper and set it on the counter in front of you. Flip the dough over, onto the loose paper, and peel off the second piece of paper, leaving you with a sheet of dough that is no longer attached to paper. Cut out shapes, and transfer cookies to baking sheets that have been lined or prepared according to the directions in your recipe. While baking, reroll scraps between parchment sheets. If dough is too soft to cut and shape immediately, just 5-10 minutes in on that same baking sheet in the freezer will firm it up.