The Ultimate Guide to Baking Cookies

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

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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Classic Cookie Recipes

We love cookies for their versatility. Almost everyone you ask has a different favorite—from shortbread to snickerdoodles, ginger cookies to spritz. Here are some of the classics:

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.

How to Decorate 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

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.

Amazon.com/Nordic Ware

Our Test Kitchen’s Favorite Sheet Pan

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 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 (check ’em all out here). 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.

Bake These Next

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

Katie Bandurski
Katie is an Associate Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in writing and email newsletters. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and combing through antique shops.