When it comes to making a gorgeous cookie tray, you want a little something for everyone’s palate – an appetizing assortment of flavors and textures – one that looks as good as it promises to taste. But producing that kind of variety can be an overwhelming order, especially during such a hectic season when we all have a zillion things on our to-do lists. Believe me, for years, I used to tackle the daunting task of creating holiday gift baskets for our clients as an end-of-the-year “Thank you for your business” gesture (shameless self-promotion, really). But after setting the bar so high that first time way back when, well, their expectations became higher every following Christmas. And, honestly, as much as I enjoyed dropping off the final product and seeing their delighted faces, the process of selecting so many different recipes, making and baking them, was plain exhausting.
I still wanted to deliver the pretty diversity as before – but without so much fuss. What I needed was one beautiful, all-in-one, genie of a dough that could crank out all the variables I wanted: slice-and-bake cookies, drop cookies, cut-out cookies, thumbprints, linzers or rolled into balls. A chameleon fundamental recipe with flavor combinations that were only limited by my imagination.
Well, folks, hang on to your oven mitt. This one’s the game-changer!
Pictured in the lead photo above: Cut-out cookies, Slice-and-Bake Almond-Walnut Coins, Lime Meltaways and Chocolate-Cherry Thumbprints. (See below for recipe variations.) Get those creative juices flowing! Roll a slice-and-bake log in pecans to completely coat the outside before slicing for a nutty addition. Take balls of chocolate dough, roll them into ground nuts and bake. Using a wooden spoon, make a hole in the center while it’s still warm; cool and fill with your choice of jam. Make the citrus dough; roll into balls and flatten slightly to make coins. Toss the warm cookies in confectioner’s sugar; allow them to cool before tossing in the sugar a second time.
Have fun decorating! Dress them up! Bling them out! Glazes, icing, decorative toppings add holiday sparkle to your confections.
The Stock Pot: Fundamental Recipe – Indispensable Vanilla Cookie Dough
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add in the egg and mix well until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla.
- With the mixer on low, gradually add in the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together. Pat the dough into a ball and divide into two or three portions. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Shape and bake the cookies according to the variations below; most cookies will bake in 10 minutes, with a general window of 10 to 12 minutes baking time. The cookie yield will depend on the kind and size of cookie you make – but a good rule of thumb is about 3 to 4 dozen cookies per batch.
Planning: The dough can be made and refrigerated overnight and up to two days or frozen for one month.
Product Purity: Please, please, please use real vanilla extract. Nielsen-Massey (along with my homemade version, see below) is always in my cupboard.
Presentation: Check out the tweaks below for an appealing selection of tastes and textures for your cookie extravaganza! Flavor Variations: -Almond Dough: Add ½ teaspoon almond extract along with the vanilla. -Chocolate Dough: Replace ½ cup of the flour with unsweetened natural cocoa powder. -Citrus Dough: Reduce the vanilla extract to ½ teaspoon; add 1 tablespoon citrus zest – either orange, lemon or lime – and 1 tablespoon fresh citrus juice. -Mint Dough: Reduce the vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon and add in ½ teaspoon pure peppermint extract. -Spice: Add 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice and ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves to the flour mixture. Shape and Bake the Dough: -For Slice-and-Bake Cookies: Shape the dough into a 12-inch log. Cut into ¼-inch slices, rotating the log a quarter turn with each slice to help the dough keep its shape. Place the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake until the edges are golden brown (or a darker brown for chocolate), about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven; let the cookies cool in the pan for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. -For Cut-Out Cookies: Divide the dough in half. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to an ⅛-th inch thickness. Cut out cookies with desired shapes; place 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake until the edges are barely golden, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven; let the cookies cool in the pan for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. -For Drop Cookies or Balls: Roll pieces of dough into 1-inch balls (you can do this by hand or use a mini ice cream scoop for uniform cookies). Place the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 11 to 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven; let the cookies cool in the pan for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.