How to bake holiday cookies that will make your great-aunt scream with pleasure

Person icing holiday cookies
I swear to the infant Christ, if you made those on a silicone baking sheet...
Image: Nastasic (Getty Images)

For a seemingly simple baked good, holiday cookies sure can be tricky. Even the most confident cake bakers can be cowed by the mighty cookie—maybe because the individual units are so small, which shines a spotlight on baking mishaps. If you, like me, could use some pro tips this holiday season, The Washington Post is here to help with these handy tidbits:

Ingredient temperature is key: If your recipe calls for room-temperature eggs or butter, use room-temperature eggs or butter. If you forgot to place your ingredients on the counter prior to entering the Bake Zone, you can soften the butter in the microwave in short bursts. You can also place eggs in a bowl of warm tap water for about five minutes to bring them up to room temp.


Mix well. Do you find yourself scrolling through Twitter while churning up your dough? The Post emphasizes “attentive mixing of the dough” for best results. That means paying attention to the visual cues provided in a recipe. For example, if your butter-sugar mixture is supposed to look light and fluffy, keep mixing until it’s light and fluffy—even if that means mixing for three minutes instead of two.

Reject the siren song of silicone: According to the experts at the Post, silicone baking mats can cause cookies, especially butter-based doughs, to spread too much. When in doubt, the Post recommends using parchment paper.

Don’t overbake: This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s easier said than done. The Post explains that, while your cookies may not look fully baked fresh out of the oven, they’ll often keep baking in the pan’s residual heat. Trust the process!

You can check out the rest of the Post’s tips in a recent article. Meanwhile, do you have a life-changing cookie tip? We’d love to hear it.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.


Lord of the Ducks

Some simple tips:

  • Try to pick fairly fool-proof recipes or go with recipes from trusted sources.
  • If sprinkling with sugar, give the raw cookies a quick mist of water or booze with a spray bottle, sprinkle on the sugar, then bake. It will stick better. Note that the linked article says sugar will melt on hot cookies, but if your cookies are coming out of the oven with a surface temp of 186C/366.8F then you probably have bigger problems than melted sugar.
  • Use a cooling rack and plan for space to cool your cookies, especially if you’re making a lot of them. Cookies can take longer to cool than to bake.
  • Most people don’t care about fancy decorations so don’t sweat it.
  • Make sure all your decorations are edible or let people know if something shouldn’t be eaten.
  • Nonstick aluminum foil is also a good option for lining baking sheets and I find lasts for more baking cycles than parchment. Plus at the end of baking it can be reused for storage.
  • If making multiple batches but only have 1 or 2 cookie sheets, consider swamping out the lining. Line the tray, place cookies, bake. While they are baking measure out another piece of lining and fill it with cookies. When the ones in the oven are done, give it minute, then carefully remove the lining and replace with the one already loaded and ready to go.
  • Don’t be afraid to adjust cooking times if you’re not getting the right bake. Not all ovens or trays are the same so some things might cook a little faster or slower.

Silicone mats - Silicone mats will transfer heat more slowly, but that lower thermal conductivity can be a good thing depending on your tray, recipe, and oven. For instance if your sugar cookies always have the bottoms too dark -or worse burnt- and adjust the oven temp doesn’t help, try using a silicone mat (or try an insulated baking sheet, but those can be a bitch to clean). Also the problem of the tray being too hot for subsequent batches isn’t as much of a problem if you are using a silicone mat.