The Ultimate Guide to Baking Cookies

Go grab your apron—you're going to need it. This all-inclusive guide contains everything you need to know about baking cookies from scratch, including techniques, tricks and recipes.

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I’ve never met someone who dislikes cookies. And, honestly, what’s not to like? These humble circles (or shapes!) can be soft, chewy or crispy; chocolatey, citrusy or spicy—the options are endless! Plus, they range from super-simple to extremely complicated. We’re looking at you, macarons.

Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a cookie connoisseur looking for a fun new challenge, we have the tips, tricks and recipes to get you started. Now, who wants to pour me a glass of milk?

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Types of Cookies

We love cookies for their versatility. And though there’s a world full of cookie recipes, most of them can be grouped into cookie types. These are a handful of the most popular types of cookies:

cookie assortment on a try on top of a marble counterTaste of Home

  • Drop cookies: Formed by scooping and rolling balls of soft dough, drop cookies are some of the easiest to make.
  • Cutout cookies: Made of a firm dough that typically doesn’t have mix-ins, cutout cookies are cut into fun shapes. And they’re not just for the holidays; you can make cutout cookies all year long.
  • Sandwich cookies: As the name suggests, sandwich cookies involve using frosting, jam or another filling to glue two cookies together, just like a sandwich.
  • Slice-and-bake cookies: A bit of a hybrid of drop and cutout cookies, slice-and-bake cookies are rolled into a cylinder and sliced into uniform rounds. You might also see these called icebox cookies!
  • No-bake cookies: This wide-range of cookies usually resemble a truffle and are made with store-bought ingredients like corn chips, granola or Rice Krispies.
  • Biscotti cookies: Twice baked for an intense crunch, biscotti cookies are an Italian favorite.
  • Meringue cookies: Airy and crisp, meringue cookies start off with egg whites and have extended bake times.
  • Special-diet cookies: Gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan or allergy-free cookies prove that anyone can indulge in a sweet treat.

Classic Cookie Recipes

Almost everyone you ask has a different favorite—from shortbread to snickerdoodles, ginger cookies to spritz. Here are some classic cookie recipes:

  • Chocolate chip cookies: One of the most iconic treats, chocolate chip cookies are always a crowd favorite.
  • Soft and chewy cookies: If you’re on #TeamChewy, these chewy cookies will hit the spot.
  • Molasses cookies: Warm and soft, molasses cookies have just the right amount of spice.
  • Chocolate cookies: For a decadent dose, reach for one of these to-die-for chocolate cookies.
  • Oatmeal cookies: These hearty oatmeal cookie recipes are full of texture, and they taste just like the ones grandma used to make!
  • Peanut butter cookies: Put your favorite pantry staple to work. Peanut butter cookies are a time-tested classic.

Ready for a challenge? Once you’ve mastered the classics, try these adventurous cookies next:

Cookie Baking Tips

As common as cookies are, they can take a little time to master. After all, you need to consider dough temperature, pan types, bake time and much more. Luckily, these cookie baking tips will help you achieve Star Baker status in no time.

(Here’s how to roll out cookie dough like a pro!)

By the way, here’s how to measure flour the right way.

Decorating Cookies

Sure, cookies are delicious on their own. But you can really take them to the next level with frosting, icing, sprinkles and more. These are some of our favorite decorating techniques:

The Gear You Need to Start Baking Cookies

Wondering what do you need for baking cookies? The main piece of cookie-baking equipment you need in your kitchen is a trusty sheet pan. But there are many other tools of the trade that will make your bakes go smoothly. These are our top picks.

  • Mixer: If you’re working with a stiff dough (like gingerbread) or whipping up more than one batch of cookies, a stand mixer will save your arm from exhaustion. Here’s our Test Kitchen’s pick for the best stand mixer.
  • Cookie cutters. Cookie cutters have come a long way. Now you can find almost any size and shape—from unicorns to succulents. These cutters are must-haves for your collection.
  • Decorating tools. For bakery-worthy treats, you’re going to need more than a butter knife. Check out the best cookie decorating tools to have on hand. Or, if you’re looking to win your block’s holiday baking contest, these Christmas-centric tools will put your treats over the edge.

Also, don’t forget to pick up one of the best cookie storage containers to keep them fresh.

Cookie FAQs

It’s natural to have a few questions about cookies. After all, there are SO many different varieties and techniques. Luckily, we have the answers to your most common cookie q’s.

Q: Do you have to chill cookie dough?

A: No, you don’t have to chill cookie dough—but we strongly recommend it! A chilled dough is not only easier to work with, but it will also yield tastier cookies. The ingredients have time to meld together in the fridge and the fats will solidify. (You can learn more about the science behind chilling cookie dough here.)

But when you’re in a pinch (or you have a serious cookie craving), it’s OK to skip this step.

Q: Why are my cookies flat?

A: If you’ve ever pulled out a tray of cookies that look more like pancakes, you’re not alone. There are many reasons your cookies turned out flat (here’s more on why your cookies are flat). But the most common culprits involve fat and temperature.

If your butter is too soft, the cookies will spread out quickly in the oven, resulting in flat discs instead of soft and chewy treats. This can also happen if you’re substituting margarine, coconut oil or another fat for butter. You’ll also want to make sure your oven temperature is accurate. If it’s too hot, the dough will, once again, spread out too quickly.

Q: What ingredients are in cookies?

A: Most cookies start with a dough comprised of flour, sugar and fat (typically butter or shortening). From there, cookies gain flavor with extracts (vanilla and almond are both popular), cocoa powder, mix-ins (like nuts, candies, oats or chocolate chips) and spices (hello, cinnamon!). Cookies are pretty forgiving, so feel free to experiment with different flavors and ingredients! These classic recipes will help you get started.

Q: Why are they called icebox cookies?

A: If you remember grandma whipping up a batch of icebox cookies, you’re not alone. This vintage treat got its name from an old-school refrigeration method where the dough was designed to be made ahead of time. If unexpected company dropped in, for example, you could pull the dough from the icebox, slice a few cookies and enjoy a fresh-baked treat in mere minutes. It’s a similar concept to the slice-and-bake cookies you can buy at the grocery store today.

Psst: Check out these common cookie storage mistakes, and how to avoid them

Bake These Next

Once you’ve mastered cookies, move on to one of these other fun bakes!

Katie Bandurski
As Senior Shopping Editor, Katie connects Taste of Home readers with the best gifts, deals and home products on the market. An avid foodie and a holiday enthusiast, Katie is an expert at cultivating meaningful moments. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and watching Christmas movies.