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.
To develop more flavor, refrigerate doughs for days wrapped airtight. Refrigerated doughs slowly break down some starch and protein, and make progressively darker and more flavorful cookies.
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.
How you measure makes a difference. For dry ingredients, use dry-cup measures — the flat rim lets you level them easier. Glass or plastic liquid measuring cups are difficult to fill accurately with dry ingredients. To measure flour and sugar, spoon them into the cup until they’re above the rim, then level off with the flat edge of a knife.
Be careful about adding fresh dough to a still-hot cookie sheet — it can melt and spread. The easiest way: Line the cookie sheet with parchment paper, then slide it off to a cooling rack and rinse the sheet with cold water. You can portion out the next batch of dough on parchment paper too, so it’s ready to slide onto the cooled sheet.
"Room temperature" butter should be soft, but not too soft or it won’t hold air when you beat it. Let it stand until you can just press a fingertip into it and leave a mark. To hurry it, cut the butter into 1-tablespoon slices. Don’t soften butter in the microwave. The center may melt before the outside softens.
"Creaming" means to beat fat (usually butter) with sugar. Beat it long enough to make it light-colored and fluffy, which can take several minutes.
Cooling matters: If you remove cookies from a baking sheet too soon, they’ll break or bend. If you don’t have a cooling rack, pull out the second rack of your oven or the rack from inside the toaster oven. Always cool cookies completely before decorating or storing them.
Roll-out sugar cookies
Yield: About 4 dozen, depending on cutter sizes.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt