Genius Recipes

The Secrets to the Best Crinkle Cookies

Starring a magical flavor from Jesse Szewczyk’s first solo cookbook, Cookies: The New Classics.

December  1, 2021

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

The crinkle cookie has always been a magical being.

It emerges only at the holidays. It starts its journey as a tightly rolled snowball. Thirteen minutes later, it leaves the oven coiffed and wearing a wedding gown, through a baking process I will just call decorative explosion.

Holiday magic, embodied. Photo by MJ Kroeger. Food Stylist: Lauren Lapenna. Prop Stylist: Molly FitzSimons.

But while it may be mostly magic, there are proven tricks to making a good one that I learned by consulting food stylist Jesse Szewczyk and making a lot of—a lot of—the genius version in his first solo cookbook, Cookies: The New Classics. And, maybe most importantly, Jesse introduced me to a crinkle cookie flavor that might make these your most memorable batch yet.

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Top Comment:
“I just made some preserved lemons (Eugenia Bone's "Well Preserved" book) last month and they are about ready to use, so this recipe comes at the perfect time! Thanks!”
— Gretchen @.

Secret #1: His recipe starts with a simple, one-bowl method, creaming butter and sugar to beat in lots of air. "A guaranteed way to get those cracks is to just shove as much physical air as you can into it," Jesse told me. The air will expand in the hot oven, so: more air, more expansion, more dramatic crinkles.

Secret #2: The dough needs to be thoroughly chilled, so the cookies stay soft and poofy and don’t melt into chewy-edged pancakes as they bake—at least 2 hours, but overnight or even a few days ahead is fine.

Secret #3: As Jesse learned from pastry chef Ben Weiner, rolling the dough first in granulated sugar means that the confectioners' sugar has a handy layer to stick to, without absorbing into the dough. In other words, the lace of its wedding dress won’t have any surprise nude patches.

Secret #4, the most genius of them all: Up to this point, the secrets have been technical and structural, and could be applied to any crinkle cookie, from chocolate to red velvet to lemon lavender.

But what makes Jesse’s cookies even more magical is how he flavors them. He triples down on the vanilla, because he found it’s almost impossible to overdo it. And he replaces the salt in the recipe with preserved lemon rind, bashed in along with the butter and sugar to infuse thoroughly into the dough.

Preserved lemons have been documented in North Africa for a thousand years, and have had long histories in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines as well. They generally appear in savory dishes, since the lemons are pickled in a salty brine. But more recently, as chefs have been searching for ways to add salt and complexity to their desserts, they’ve popped up in everything from Yossy Arefi’s ice cream to Nadiya Hussain’s traybakes to Rebecca Firkser’s lemon bars.

Jesse’s crinkle cookies don’t scream preserved lemon, but they taste richer, more aromatic, and more balanced in a cookie tin because of it. Consider it the latest trick from the magical being this holiday season needs.

Got a Genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Passport
  • Gretchen @ Backyardnotes
    Gretchen @ Backyardnotes
  • Terry Becker Routh
    Terry Becker Routh
  • Gwen
  • Lynette Martyn
    Lynette Martyn
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Passport December 9, 2021
Is it possible to make preserved limes? My lime tree is full of ripe fruit, but my lemon tree is not ready for the holidays!
Gretchen @. December 9, 2021
Yes. Same process as preserving lemons. In my experience, they take a bit longer to soften.
Gretchen @. December 8, 2021
Kristen, the pulp from the lemons is a great addition to a mustardy vinaigrette, with fresh thyme leaves and good for dressing bitter greens or other sturdy lettuces. Also good with fresh fennel bulb - raw or cooked.
I just made some preserved lemons (Eugenia Bone's "Well Preserved" book) last month and they are about ready to use, so this recipe comes at the perfect time! Thanks!
Terry B. December 8, 2021
I have the exact same question as Gwen. Where does one find preserved lemon? Nothing around here except Walmart, HyVee, Aldi. Could you use lemon zest instead? Thanks!
Lynette M. December 8, 2021
I havent tried it yet but have read its super easy to make your own. Ive been meaning to try it.
HalfPint December 8, 2021
Preserved lemons are easy to make at home:
1. cut lemons into quarter wedges and kosher salt them, very very generously.
2. put lemons into clean and sanitized jars, packing wedges snuggly
3. top with more kosher salt. since you won't be consuming any of the brining liquid, you will never add too much salt. Optional: add a couple of peppercorns or cloves.
4. top off the jar with fresh lemon juice and if needed, a little water. you'll want the lemons fully submerged by liquid.
5. cap jar and leave on your counter for 2-3 weeks. That's it.
Gwen December 8, 2021
These cookies sound delicious. Where does one find the preserved lemon rind?
HalfPint December 8, 2021
Amazon or a local ethnic grocer (Middle Eastern market). You will want whole preserved lemons. Or make them at them at home (see my above comment).