All that dashing and dancing in the kitchen adds up to a lot of time around the holidays. Anything you can do ahead is bound to help.
That may be enough motivation to make cookie doughs in advance and stash them in the refrigerator, ready to bake.
But how about this: Your time-saver may be a flavor booster. Making cookies in advance may improve them.
In the last few years, cookie recipes have been cropping up that harness the idea of building flavor and texture by letting things wait a little.
“I think you can taste a difference,” said Sue Gray, manager of product development for King Arthur Flour. “There are changes happening. Exactly what they are is hard to pin down. Probably a bunch of little things are happening.”
The idea of letting cookie dough sit in the refrigerator, not just for a couple of hours but for as long as several days, came to my attention in 2008, when food writer David Leite wrote a story for The New York Times on his quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie.
He discovered that Maury Rubin of City Bakery in New York let cookie dough rest for 36 hours before baking.
After hearing that, Leite went back to the source, a 1953 cookbook by Ruth Wakefield, the originator of the Toll House cookie, and noticed that her recipe called for letting the dough rest overnight. Apparently, the step was dropped when Nestle put the recipe on bags of semisweet morsels.
After trying it, Leite decided it did make a difference. The dough was drier and firmer, and the cookies developed sweet, toffee-like flavors.
The difference starts with the liquid in the egg, which hydrates the starch in flour. Giving the flour more time to absorb that liquid makes the dough firmer, but it also lets enzymes in the flour and the egg yolk break down carbohydrates into the simple sugars fructose and glucose. Separately, they taste sweeter and they caramelize faster when baked.
And not all cookies can sit, of course. Meringues and macaroons, based on foamy egg whites, can’t wait.
But doughs based on flour, sugars, butter and egg are made for waiting. Cookies with strong flavors, such as ginger or peanut butter, can benefit from time to ripen.
Roll-out sugar cookies
From “The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion” (Countryman Press, 2004). Sugar cookies, with their simple flavors, can benefit from refrigerating. If you’re baking with kids, it also helps to have the dough ready and waiting in the refrigerator.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup heavy cream or sour cream
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- For glaze
- 2¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1½ to 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon milk or heavy cream
- Food coloring (optional)
- Beat the butter, sugar, salt, baking powder, vanilla and almond extract with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add half the cream, all of the cornstarch and half the flour; beat well. Add the remaining cream and flour, mixing just until incorporated.
- Divide the dough in half. Flatten into rounds and wrap well. Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to several days.
- Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment. Transfer one section of chilled dough to a lightly floured surface. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll out the dough to 1/8- to ¼-inch thick. Using cookie cutters dipped in flour, cut out shapes and transfer to the baking sheets.
- Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until cookies are set but not browned. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes before removing from the baking sheets. Cool completely before decorating.
- Glaze: Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup and 1 ½ tablespoons milk or cream. Spread a little on one cookie. If it doesn’t smooth out after a minute, dribble in a little extra milk. Divide into small bowls and stir in food coloring if desired.
Yield: About 4 dozen, depending on cutter sizes.
From “Pure Dessert,” by Alice Medrich, and the blog Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman. The second baking makes exceptionally crisp shortbread, while letting the dough sit overnight fully hydrates the flour and increases the buttery flavor.
- 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
- 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- Granulated sugar, for topping
- Line an 8-inch baking pan with foil, letting it hang over two sides. Or grease an 8-inch springform pan with a removable bottom.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add to a mixing bowl with the sugar, vanilla and salt. Mix until combined. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated.
- Pat and spread the dough evenly into the pan. Cover and let stand at least 2 hours and up to overnight. (It can just sit on the counter, unrefrigerated.)
- Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake the shortbread for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, leaving the oven on. Lightly sprinkle the surface with sugar, then let stand for 10 minutes.
- Remove the shortbread from the pan and gently cut it in wedges, rectangles or squares. Place the pieces slightly apart on a nonstick baking sheet and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.
Yield: 16 wedges or 2 dozen squares.