Bakers, to your ovens!
I've got a bunch of ideas for getting batches of cookies prepped ahead of time, but first, here's one of my favorite recipes: Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough. It's a cookie baker's secret weapon; it was mine before I went public with it in my new book, "Dorie's Cookies."
This delicious dough comes together easily and has a variety of uses, from drop to slice-and-bake to cut-out cookies. It can take some spice or remain purely vanilla. It rolls and bakes flat, so it can be decorated; and it stays just where you put it, so if you decide to make a gothic cathedral complete with flying buttresses, the dough won't defeat your grand plans.
I'm starting you off with the basic recipe, plus four other recipes you can make with it: Make one batch of dough and divide it to make all four, or make a bushel of one type of cookie from one batch. So many ways to play.
My four-made-from-one-dough cookies are: White Chocolate and Poppy Seed Cookies (cut-out cookies with an easy white-chocolate glaze); Double Ginger Crumb Cookies (fresh ginger cookies with a ginger crumb topping); Vanilla Polka Dots (drop cookies speckled with crunchy pearl sugar); and Christmas Spice Cookies (spiced cut-out cookies to sprinkle with sparkly sugar or decorate madly).
This dough is so malleable that you can use it make thumbprints, with a thick berry jam; slice-and-bakes, after you roll the dough into logs; pinwheels, with a filling of cranberries and orange (think cranberry sauce); or sandwiches, with cookie spread or Nutella (how great would that be?).
As I said, these four recipes are one way you can grab a little control from the craziness that can be deadline baking.
• The dough can be made and frozen for up to 2 months.
• If you're making cut-out cookies, roll the dough between sheets of parchment or wax paper, stack the sandwiched dough on a baking sheet and, when it's completely frozen, wrap airtight. No need to defrost the dough before cutting and baking.
• If you're making drop or scoop cookies, drop/scoop the dough onto a lined baking sheet and freeze, uncovered, until the balls are solid. Put the balls in a bag and seal airtight. When you're ready to bake, arrange the balls of dough on a lined baking sheet, leave them at room temperature while you preheat the oven, then bake. This works for thumbprint cookies too; just make the "print" before you freeze the dough.
• If you're making slice-and-bake or pinwheel cookies, wrap the logs of dough airtight and freeze. Let the dough sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before slicing and baking.
• I prefer freezing raw dough and baking cookies when I want them, but that might not be practical if you've got dozens of cookies to bake for a swap. Happily, baked cookies freeze well, too. Pack them airtight, and they'll be good for up to 2 months. Defrost them still wrapped.
• To pack cookies for shipping, the rule is "like with like": crunchy with crunchy, soft with soft, and spice (or fragrant peanut butter) separate from plain.
• My favorite packing material is popcorn - real popcorn: It's a great cushion, and both you and the person who opens the box get an extra snack.
Now off you go: Bake! Bake! And bake some more.
DO-ALMOST-ANYTHING VANILLA COOKIE DOUGH
SERVINGS: Makes 80 two-inch cookies
Dorie Greenspan offers four variations you can make with this dough; we like it baked simply, as it is here.
You'll need a 2-inch cookie cutter.
See the Variations, below, each of which uses one-quarter of this basic dough.
MAKE AHEAD: The basic rolled-out dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 3 hours and up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Cut and bake directly from the freezer.
Adapted from "Dorie's Cookies," by Dorie Greenspan (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).
• 1 pound (454 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
• 1 1/3 cups (262 grams) sugar
• 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
• 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 4 cups (544 grams) flour
• Sanding sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
Combine the butter, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes or until creamy. Stop once or twice to scrape down the bowl.
Reduce the speed to low and add the egg whites and then the vanilla extract; the dough may curdle, but it will smooth out once the flour is added.
On low speed, add the flour in 3 or 4 additions, beating only until it is almost incorporated before the next portion goes in. Stop to scrape down the bowl as needed.
At this point, the dough can be divided and flavored (see VARIATIONS, below) and scooped or rolled out. To make plain cookies, divide the dough into quarters and shape each one into a disk. Working with one disk at a time, place it between 2 sheets of parchment paper and roll out to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Stack the disks with their parchment paper on a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 3 hours; or you can freeze them for 1 hour.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
Working with one rolled-out portion of dough at a time, peel away the parchment paper on both sides, then place the dough back on one of those sheets of paper.
Use the cookie cutter to cut out as many cookies as you can, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheets and rerolling scraps as needed. Sprinkle with sanding sugar if desired. Bake (upper and lower racks) for 19 to 21 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through or as soon as you see the cookies' edges start to become golden. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
• To make about 24 White Chocolate and Poppy Seed Cookies, stir 1/3 cup (56 grams) chopped white chocolate bar or white chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon black poppy seeds into one-quarter of the basic dough (before you roll it out). Roll to a 1/4-inch-thick disk, chill, cut out, bake and cool as in the recipe above. Melt 1/3 cup white chocolate chips; spread it over the cooled cookies and then sprinkle with more poppy seeds. Let set before serving or storing.
• To make 20 Vanilla Polka Dots, use a small (2 teaspoons) disher to create 20 level portions of dough, using one-quarter of the basic dough before it's rolled out. Roll each portion into a ball, then dip it into a bowl containing about 1/2 cup (96 grams) pearl or Swedish sugar, and space the balls about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. Wrap the bottom of a jam jar with plastic wrap; use it to flatten the balls a bit. Bake (middle rack) one sheet at a time for 20 to 22 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back after 11 minutes. Cool the cookies as directed above.
• To make about 20 Double-Ginger Crumb Cookies, stir together 1 1/4 teaspoons peeled, minced fresh ginger root and 1 teaspoon sugar in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring a few times, until the sugar melts into a syrup. Stir that mixture into one-quarter of the basic dough recipe (before you roll it out). Roll out and chill as directed above. Make the topping: Combine 3/4 cup (102 grams) flour, 1/3 cup (67 grams) sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt and 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, in a bowl, using your fingertips to work the mixture into crumbs that hold together. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Cut out the cookies as directed above, then sprinkle a generous amount of the crumbly topping on each one. (You will have leftover topping.) Bake (middle rack) one sheet at a time, for 21 to 23 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back after 12 minutes. Cool as directed above.
• To make about 18 Spice Cookies, combine 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, a pinch of ground cloves and a pinch of ground allspice in a small bowl, then blend the mixture evenly into one-quarter of the basic dough recipe (before you roll it out). Roll out, chill and cut out as directed above, using a 2-inch snowflake-shaped cutter; sprinkle sanding sugar over each one, if desired, before baking (middle rack) one sheet at a time for 19 to 21 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back after 10 minutes. Cool as directed above.
Nutrition: Per cookie: 80 calories, 0 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 30 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar