Edible Gift

Holiday Cookie Strategies

December  4, 2012

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, we're discussing strategies for holiday cookie baking -- and gifting.

Secret Cookies

When it comes to holiday shopping, it's easy to leave things until the last minute. You're busy at work, you're preparing for holiday parties, and then all of a sudden you're at the mall on December 24th, trying to convince yourself that your father really wants that reindeer tie.

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Save yourself (and your father, who has enough ties) the stress this year by giving homemade gifts -- and making them ahead. You've still got time! Whether you'll be sending off cookies to far-away cousins or want to save yourself from baking cookies for Santa when you (er, the elves) really need to be wrapping presents, look no further. We've outlined some cookie-making strategies to make your holidays easier, more cheerful, and -- as always -- more delicious.

Roll of Dough

There's power in numbers.
Friends and relatives love receiving cookies because they're beautiful, festive and delicious. We love giving cookies because they're easy to make ahead and easy to make en masse. 

Once you've found a cookie recipe you love, just double -- or quadruple -- it. Don't try to make seven different types of cookies -- economies of scale will work in your favor here. With just a little extra work, you'll get a bounty of cookies -- enough to check off half of the people on your Christmas list. 

Ginger Molasses
The dough for these Ginger Spiced Molasses Snickerdoodles freezes beautifully.

Your freezer is your friend.
Most cookie doughs can be frozen ahead of time and still yield great results. Depending on the kind of cookie you're baking, you'll want to follow a different freezing strategy.

For Roll and Cut Cookies: Roll and cut your cookies according to the recipe. Place them on a baking sheet and freeze; store the frozen cookies in a freezer bag. When you're ready to bake, defrost your cookies as you preheat the oven. 

For Slice and Bake Cookies: Roll your dough into a log and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, ensuring the dough is fully covered. Store it in the freezer for up to a month. When you're ready to bake, defrost your dough for two hours in the refrigerator. Unwrap, slice, and bake as directed.

Pain D'Amande
These genius Pain d'Amande cookies can be frozen as a block of dough -- look how well they slice!

For Scoop and Bake Cookies: Scoop your dough into balls and freeze on a baking sheet. Once frozen, store them in an airtight bag for up to two weeks. When you're ready to bake, simply defrost them while the oven preheats, and add one to two minutes to your cooking time.

If you want to bake and then freeze your cookies, of course, you can. Be sure to let them cool completely and store them in an airtight container. Our community added some great tips for this to Jenny's piece on Triple Chocolate Espresso Cookies.

Keeping things even:
One risk of baking cookies in large quantities is ending up with cookies in a wide range of sizes that don't bake evenly. A great way to avoid this is precise measurement -- we love using miniature ice cream scoops or melon ballers to portion out dough. If you're not so precise in your measurements, try to bake cookies of the similar size together. Bake the smallest ones in one batch, the largest ones in another, and so on.

cookie balls
Searching for the best baking sheets? Hear Brette's thoughts here.

Keep your bottoms golden, not burnt:
Another issue that arises when baking multiple batches of cookies -- especially if you're only working with one baking sheet -- is that the bottoms of your cookies burn because the baking sheet is too hot when put in the oven. Cook's Illustrated has a great solution for this: once removing a finished batch of cookies from your baking sheet, let it cool, and then run it under cold tap water. Dry it off, and it will be ready for your next batch.

Send them off:
First things first: be sure that your cookies are fully cooled before you package them! The most important thing to keep in mind when shipping cookies is keeping them safe and well-protected. If you are sending different types of cookies, store them separately -- that way your sugar cookies won't pick up the smell of peanut butter. As far as packaging goes, you've got a few options:

Cellophane bags: These are a good option for sturdy, round cookies -- think something like a chewy, dense sugar cookie that won't break. You'll get extra points for presentation if you tie it with colorful ribbons. Ship them in a box with lots of bubble wrap to keep them protected.

Reusable containers: Let's be honest. With all the mismatched tops and tupperwares we have floating around, we're always happy to receive edible gifts in quality reusable containers. Be sure to separate your cookies with layers of parchment or wax paper. Again, be sure that your tupperware is well protected within the shipping box so that your cookies don't get too jostled.

Cookie Tin

Cookie Tins: Few things are sweeter than a batch of cookies sent in a cookie tin. Be sure to layer wax paper here, too, and don't fill the cookies to the top. Leave some space between your cookies and the lid of the tin, and fill it with more wax paper.

Looking for the ultimate cut-out cookie to decorate and send? Amanda's got a recipe that makes 80 cookies that get better when stored. You can probably cancel that trip to the mall now.

What are your tried and true strategies for baking and gifting cookies for the holidays?

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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.

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Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



AntoniaJames December 4, 2012
As part of the upcoming weekend's holiday treat triathalon, I'll also make Secret Cookies (to distribute locally). Love how FOOD52 has shared these A&M family favorites. Mothers' recipes are the best! ;o)
Greenstuff December 4, 2012
Those Secret Cookies are outstanding! My Christmas cookie repertoire was already pretty much limited to Sweden, but there was room for one more Swedish cookie in Merrill's mother's recipe.
OnBlank December 4, 2012
Does anybody ship cookies with a piece of bread in the bag to keep them soft? I'm a fan of sugar or peanut butter cookies and I prefer a little crunch to them but after three or four days in transit...everybody I've shipped to is perhaps too polite to say what their texture really was by the time they got there.
AntoniaJames December 4, 2012
Really looking forward to making Amanda's mother's sugar cookie recipe for my gift giving this year! A cookie that gets better over time is simply perfect for those of us who ship baked treats across the country every December. ;o) P.S. Here's another idea, for gift recipients who also love to bake: include the recipe! It's so easy now, with computers and printers to do most of the work. I include a small memory key with the recipes themselves (and for fun, a few photos of what we've been doing during the year, as well as of my kitchen during my treat-making and wrapping for shipping marathon) for some of my recipients, too.
Marian B. December 4, 2012
What a sweet idea! It's always nice to have a hand-written recipe in today's digital age. I'll definitely be doing that with the cookies I send!
AntoniaJames December 4, 2012
I love the handwritten touch (I've saved every letter I've ever received since early childhood), so I print the recipe to save time, then put handwritten notes - usually tips -- on each one in ink, then slide each into a plastic sleeve punched with three holes for putting into a binder, if the recipient chooses to save the recipe that way. This can be done well in advance of baking day, of course! ;o)
Matilda L. December 4, 2012
Don't the cookie sheets warp if you run them under cold water to cool them?
AntoniaJames December 4, 2012
Mine never have, and I've been doing this since I was a teenager (and not all my cookie sheets have been of the greatest quality). Give the cookie sheet a minute or so to cool down in the air after you remove the cookies, then run cool -- not cold -- water on them. I find that extreme heat presents a much greater risk of causing warping than cold. (In fact, in mid-winter here, our tap water is icy cold, as it comes directly from Yosemite, and I've never had a problem even with very chilly water.) ;o)
Kenzi W. December 4, 2012
Thanks for this! But I'll probably still get my dad that tie. It's tradition, right?
Marian B. December 4, 2012
One of the biggest jokes in my family is a tie that I got my dad on a trip to Alaska with a picture of Alaska, a moose, an eagle, maybe some salmon on it...it's horrendous, and I've had to bar him from wearing it.