Everyone wants to make those “as-seen-on-TV” perfectly beautiful holiday cookies, but sometimes the dough has other ideas.
All is not lost, said Carla Due, Miller County Extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Due knows. She’s a big holiday cookie fan.
“One of my favorite Christmas traditions is making sugar cookies with my children,” she said. “This is something that we have done since they were old enough to stand up in a chair next to the kitchen counter. It is an annual tradition at our house.”
Due said making homemade cookies hasn’t always been perfect.
“In college, I used to get frustrated when dough would stick to my rolling pin, or I would open the oven to find one large cookie,” she said. “Cookie problems can happen to all of us, we just need to learn from those mistakes and find the solutions for those cookie dilemmas.”
Sticky dough – Sometimes the dough sticks to the rolling pin. Due suggests using
a pastry cloth and stockinette-covered rolling pin to help keep the dough from sticking. Rubbing flour onto the rolling pin cover and pastry cloth adds to ease of handling. Refrigerating dough for about an hour will also make the dough easier to handle, especially if the dough is soft.
Cracking dough – Sometimes the dough cracks when rolling it out. In this case, it is likely that the dough is too cold. Remedy this by covering the dough and let sit at room temperature to warm slightly.
One (unintentionally) big cookie – Uh oh. You open the oven to find one large cookie instead of a dozen. Now what? “You decorate it as a large ornament,” Due said. “Cookies may spread for a variety of reasons. Before baking an entire batch, bake a test cookie to give a good indication of dough condition.” If it spreads too much, the dough may be too soft. Try chilling the dough. If the dough is still too soft, stir in one to two tablespoons of flour. Also, do not over soften the butter or margarine before making the dough.
Burned cookies – Maybe your cookies went from chewy to burnt in a matter of minutes. Due said the baking sheet may be the villain. “Select a thin, light cookie sheet. The darker the pan, the more heat will be absorbed and therefore more heat will radiate off the surface. Keep a close eye on them and bake on the middle rack.”
Broken cookies – “Cookies that break when removed from baking sheets can break your heart,” she said. If cookies are still hot from the oven, let them cool on the pans for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks. Once cooled per the recipe, they will remove easily and in one piece.
How the cookies crumble – Crumbling cookies are hard and dry. Due said there are several possible root causes. The dough could’ve been overmixed, over-baked, the dough was overly wet, or there wasn’t enough fat. Excessive salt can also cause your cookies to be hard, she said. Stop mixing as soon as the ingredients come together. More stirring doesn’t make it better. When adding salt to the recipe, measure salt using measuring spoons. Level off the top.
Due shares her favorite holiday sugar cookie recipe below:
Holiday Sugar Cookies
One and one half cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour*
1-teaspoon baking soda
1-teaspoon cream of tartar
Mix powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, almond extract and egg. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least three hours.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Divide dough into halves. Roll each half three-sixteenths of an inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake until edges are light brown, about seven to eight minutes. Remove from cookie sheets to a cooling rack. Frost and decorate when cooled.
*If using self-rising flour, omit baking soda and cream of tartar.