As I write this guide, it is early December, also known as “official cookie season.” There is no wrong way to make holiday cookies, and every style of cookie should be on the table (literally and figuratively). However, the joy of baking the best cookies isn’t reserved for the holidays. Every gathering is made a little better by a giant platter of cookies, and nothing satisfies a crowd like the classic dessert. Plus, making cookies from scratch is fun. So whether you’re baking non-stop for the holiday season, or preparing for a summer barbecue, this guide on how to make cookies will help you come up with ideas and tricks to perfect your cookies. Plus I include some of my favorite recipes.
Want to know to really take your cookies up a notch? Make your own homemade vanilla.
How To Make the Best Cookies: The Basics
A good cookie, of course, starts with the dough. A basic dough often includes flour, sugar, egg and butter. The amounts can vary based on type of cookie, and some cookies require different combinations, but it’s a pretty good standard to keep in mind when making your dough. And given its key role, the type of butter you choose can make a huge difference. A high quality butter, like one of my favorites, Kerrygold, will go a long way in improving the quality of your dough and texture of your cookies. But, you may need to make other alterations because of the higher fat content of European butter. A good flour is also important — I recommend King Arthur.
Chilling Cookie Dough
To chill or not to chill? Many of my cookie recipes call for chilling your dough for at least 30 minutes, and often much longer (multiple days). For many cookies, chilling will help improve the texture, shape and moisture of the final product. Chilled dough can also help you control how much your cookies spread.
There are exceptions to chilling, so make sure to follow the instructions of your recipe, but for many classic cookie recipes you’ll be better off with a chilled dough.
Freezing Cookie Dough
Many cookie doughs can last several months in your freezer. This allows you to make a lot of dough at once, or bake smaller batches of cookies at a time. Frozen dough produces great cookies, but you want to make sure to thaw it in the fridge until the dough is soft enough to handle, which can take at least 24 hours, and often longer.
Chewy, soft or crispy? Everyone has a texture they love. Finding yours can take a little experimentation, but I offer some tips in my chocolate chip cookie guide. Here are a couple of basic tips:
- For softer cookies, use more egg, brown sugar or flour. Each of these will help soften your cookies, as I explain in more detail in the chocolate chip cookie guide.
- For crisper cookies, use less egg or flour, or sub some white sugar for brown sugar. Again, each of these options work for different reasons, as described in my chocolate chip cookie guide.
The ratios may require some tweaking for the perfect texture, but that’s part of the fun of baking cookies. Also, be aware of your oven temperature, as that will change how the cookies bake.
Types Of Cookies
Chocolate Chip Cookies
What cookie guide is complete without a chocolate chip cookie recipe? I put together a separate guide to chocolate chip cookies, because they’re that important. If you can master your own chocolate chip cookies, you’ll be well on your way to perfecting your other favorites.
Bonus chocolate chip cookie recipe: Have you tried the pan bang chocolate chip cookie method by my friend Sarah Kieffer? Her recipe results in delicious cookies, and banging on the pan creates ripples that make the cookies both crisp and soft at the same time.
Peanut Butter Cookies
Peanut butter should stand beside chocolate chip in terms of classic cookies. They are easy to make, and when perfected have great texture and peanut butter flavor. These are some of my favorites:
Gluten Free Cookies
Baking has come a long way for the Celiac community and those who are gluten intolerant. In fact, I like some of these gluten free cookies more than ones with gluten. Most styles can be made gluten free without sacrificing flavor, but sometimes getting the texture right can be a little tricky. Much like cookies with standard flour, there may be some trial and error to get your texture just right with these, but it’s worth it.
There are also some cookies, like meringues, that are naturally gluten free. Here on my site you’ll find several kinds of cookies that are naturally, or made, gluten free. Some of these recipes are for vegan cookies, too, including a vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe, because I know sometimes people who eat gluten free have other dietary restrictions as well. And if you are looking for more general tips on gluten free baking, check out my guide to gluten free desserts.
Here are some of my favorite gluten free cookie recipes.
Looking for an elegant and beautiful dessert that is much easier to make than you think? French macarons are the way to go. You can easily choose different flavor profiles and colors for a bright and beautiful tray of cookies that taste great. Need minty green macarons for St. Patty’s Day? Pastel macarons for spring? Chocolate macarons for any old Tuesday? I’ve got recipes for all of them!
Some people get macarons and macaroons mixed up, but they are quite different. Like macarons, macaroons are naturally gluten free, but macarons are made mainly of almond flour and macaroons are made mostly of shredded coconut. The coconut flavor is amazing, and you don’t need any flour. Some folks call these haystack cookies, but whatever name you know them by, you’ll love the flavor and texture.
As I mentioned at the top, I am writing this in December, which means sugar cookies are a must. Kids love to decorate these and cut them into fun shapes, and the recipe is easy and tasty. You can get as fanciful as your imagination will go or keep it simple.
I even use this recipe to make a cookie house (think gingerbread house with all the holiday charm, but made with the same simple sugar cookie dough).
Are oatmeal cookies healthy? Well, they can be a healthier option than other kinds. Oats certainly have many health benefits. My oatmeal cookie recipe calls for Cup4Cup gluten free flour and it includes maple syrup and sugar. And, yes, these are oatmeal raisin cookies, but I still consider them a sweet and tasty treat. Healthier, yes, but still delicious cookies.
Russian Tea Cakes
Russian Tea Cakes (also known as Mexican wedding cakes) make another great holiday cookie. They are dusted in confectioners’ sugar, and thus have a beautiful white snowball like appearance. I love putting these in a gift box or including them on a holiday cookie platter.
A simple butter cookie, or shortbread cookie, is such a wonderful treat. A rich buttery flavor is, of course, the hallmark of these cookies, but you can include all kinds of flavors in your recipe, and these are another option for a great cookie tray.
Hamantaschen can be found in any city, at most Jewish delis and bakeries, especially during the holiday of Purim. Making these triangular cookies is easy and in my humble opinion, better than most that I’ve sampled. The soft, tender dough is easy to make and the multiple filling options and cream cheese make these a delight worth trying for any occasion.
Another treat with a tender dough and sweet fruit fillings, these rugelach are beautiful little pastries. They are rolled up to look like little crescent rolls, and you can fill them with your favorite flavors. This recipe was inspired by a conversation with my grandmother and a recipe from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America.
Want to add the look of a lattice pie to your cookie tray without making an entire pie? Try these beautiful linzer tortes. They feature raspberry jam spread between a rich, buttery, hazelnut cookie dough and are based on a classic English biscuit.
Kitchen Tools for Making the Best Cookies
Great kitchen tools help every baker make the beautiful cookies above and craft the perfect dough. I have all of my favorite cookie-making tools in my Amazon shop, and I’ve highlighted a few below that I just can’t make cookies without.
Good cookie sheets will help your cookies bake more evenly. My favorites are from Nordic Ware, and come in a set of three different sizes. They are made from aluminum, which conducts heat more evenly and heats up (and cools down) quickly.
A cooling rack is important so your cookies don’t continue baking after you pull them from the oven. Some recipes will call for cookies to stay on the pan for a period before moving them to the rack, so be sure to pay close attention to the instructions. Cooling racks come in different shapes and sizes, so look for one that works for your space and that is non-stick.
A good silpat helps save time and cut down on waste. The silicone baking mats can be used in place of parchment paper and don’t need to be greased to avoid sticking.
Using a cookie scoop will ensure all of your cookies end up the same size, which is important so they all bake for the same amount of time. If you have some cookies that are bigger than others, you may have some that are under baked or over baked.