19+ Baking Hacks for Better Christmas Cookies, From Professional Chefs

Level up your holiday cookie baking game with baking tips and hacks from our experts.

You probably have a standard holiday cookie recipe you use every year, and while there's nothing wrong with tradition, it might be time to give your go-to recipe a tweak or two. With that in mind, we consulted a team of experts—think professional bakers, chefs, and other culinary pros—and asked them to share tips and tricks guaranteed to yield tastier Christmas cookies.

For example, while freezing cookie dough is a well-known baking hack, did you know using egg yolks (as opposed to the whole egg) leaves you with a richer cookie? Or that the key to a perfectly fluffy cookie is a few teaspoons of baking soda?

If you're ready to take your cookies to the next level during the holiday season (and beyond), check out our professional-approved list of baking hacks and other tricks for even better Christmas treats. And be sure to keep reading for dedicated sections on how to bake better sugar cookies and how to bake better gingerbread cookies!

Baking Hacks for Better Christmas Cookies

Ready to make some A+ holiday cookies this year? Scroll down to read the best cookie-making tips directly from culinary professionals from all over the world.

Ensure baking staples are fresh.

"Remember to check the freshness of your baking soda and baking powder. You can do so by pouring two tablespoons of hot water into a bowl with one teaspoon of baking powder. If the baking powder is active, it should start to bubble up. If it doesn't, it's time to buy a new one," advises pastry chef Dallas Wynne of Toothfairy Bakery in Miami. "With baking soda, you can do the same thing, except use vinegar or lemon juice instead of hot water."

Be careful with butter.

"When bringing your butter to room temperature, always make sure to not over-soften it," warns Jason Smith, a chef and baker that won Food Network's Holiday Baking Championship and is currently working with a food-tech startup called HUNGRY. "You should be able to place your finger on it and push, and it will make an indention but not run through the middle. You can also check butter with a kitchen thermometer, which should read anywhere from 62 to 68 degrees."

Use unsalted butter.

"Make sure you are using unsalted butter unless the recipe calls for salted butter," explains Dina Deleasa-Gonsar, the founder of DishItGirl. "Using salted butter can alter the taste of your cookie."

Cream butter correctly.

"When creaming the butter for a recipe, I always place my butter and sugar in the bowl and cream together just until the sugar is mixed in and the texture is uniform. You can see the color go from medium yellow to light and pale yellow," Smith explains. "Creaming puts air into the mixture, and that keeps the butter from melting too fast. On the other hand, over-creaming breaks the butter down so that it melts at an even faster pace in the oven."

Watch your eggs.

"Make sure the butter or eggs aren't too cold," explains professional chef, chocolatier, and recipe developer Martin Diez from Barry Callebaut. "It's important to soften those and mix them well together to have a nice, fluffy texture and give as much volume as you can during the baking process."

Use egg yolks for richer cookies.

"One super-simple way to make your cookies extra-rich and tender is to use egg yolks in place of whole eggs. So, if a recipe calls for two whole eggs, use four yolks instead," says Claire Wells, a baker, pastry chef, cookbook author, and blogger. "Not only will it make your cookies crazy-flavorful, but it will also help to keep them moist and chewy. (Note that if you have large eggs, you might only need three yolks, not four.)"

Consider egg substitutes.

For an egg-free alternative, chef David Cáceres of San Antonio's La Panadería recommends substituting cream cheese. "Not only is it perfect for anyone with an egg allergy, but the substitution gives cookies a fluffier and richer flavor than the traditional recipe using eggs."

Try muscovado sugar.

"A little baking secret of mine is to use muscovado sugar—unrefined cane sugar that contains natural molasses," shares Grand Hyatt Baha Mar executive pastry chef Bruce Trouyet. "You can find this sugar in some gourmet shops. The specificity of this sugar is that the molasses have not been extracted yet and the sugar is unrefined. This means it's strong in both flavor and color."

Grab some pudding mix.

"Add pudding mix to your cookie dough for extra-chewy treats," suggests chef David Rodriguez of The Duplex in Chicago. "Simply add one box of dry instant pudding mix to your recipe before baking." Stick to a vanilla mix, which won't interfere with other flavors.

Add baking soda—the key to fluffy cookies.

"Another hack is to use a few teaspoons of baking soda in your dough to make it extra-fluffy," says Trouyet.

Opt for real vanilla bean.

"If you really want to splurge, there is nothing like the taste of real vanilla bean, which can be added to the dough and/or the icing," explains Jolie Skwiercz, head pastry chef at the Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix. "Vanilla bean adds a subtle sweetness with notes of fruit and flowers."

Get salty.

"Salt is your new secret ingredient! Every dessert recipe should call for a pinch of salt," notes Wynne. "It enhances the taste and flavors of your dessert—whether kosher salt in your cake batter or a nice flakey sea salt on top of your holiday cookies—a dash of salt is a must!"

And if you're making chocolate cookies, Wynne suggests enlisting the help of a morning staple. "Add a dash of instant coffee to your dough or batter to intensify the chocolate flavors."

Let the cookie dough rest in the refrigerator.

"Most cookie doughs perform their best after at least one night of resting in the fridge, if not more. This resting and aging process is important for the hydration of the starches in the dough—flour takes some time to absorb liquid from the eggs, butter, and other liquids in the dough," says Ashley Robinson, executive pastry chef of Dusek's in Chicago.

"If the flour is evenly and fully hydrated, the texture of the cookie is more likely to be soft and chewy, the cookies will bake and brown more evenly, and the spreading of the dough during the bake is more controlled."

Pop dough in the freezer.

"Freeze your dough. Not only will it allow you to prep your cookies ahead of time, making baking days way less stressful, it also improves the outcome of your cookies," shares Meg Pedersen, pastry chef at Gadabout—a global street food-inspired restaurant in Chicago. "When given time to properly chill, cookies come out more flavorful, and because the fats in the cookies are solidified before baking, they do not spread as much, giving you better consistency and shape."

Not sure exactly how to freeze your dough? Pedersen has some pointers. "Either scoop your dough onto a parchment-lined sheet tray, allow to freeze completely, then store in freezer bags, or roll the dough into logs for slice-and-bake cookies, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and freeze until ready to bake. And there's no need to thaw the dough ahead of time! Just add a few extra minutes to the baking time."

Use the right cookie pan.

"Home ovens tend not to circulate heat well. Therefore, you need to watch the bottoms of your cookies because they'll brown faster than the tops. A hallmark sign of a cookie baked at home versus at a bakery is a brown bottom," explain Tiff and Leon Chen, founders of Tiff's Treats—the nation's first warm cookie delivery brand. "There's an easy way to help with this issue: Use an insulated cookie pan. It has a pocket of air on the bottom that prevents the heat from getting so close to the underside of the cookies."

Don't crowd cookies.

"When placing your cookies on the baking sheet, never overcrowd the pan. Make sure to always place the cookies 1 to 2 inches apart," Smith notes. "This allows the heat to circulate evenly around the cookies."

Speaking of the baking process, Smith shares that you should "...never bake cookies on a shiny new baking sheet." To clarify: "A baking sheet should always be lined with a Silpat or parchment paper to create a surface that the cookies can cling to," Smith adds.

Under-bake cookies (slightly).

"Cookies will continue to cook on your baking sheet for a few minutes after removing them from the oven, so pulling them out a little early ensures a perfectly baked cookie," Pedersen points out. "It also causes them to retain a bit more moisture, giving you a softer, chewier result."

Let cookies rest.

Once you take cookies out of the oven, let them rest for a few minutes. "Don't try to remove the cookies from the pan right out of the oven. If you do this, they may fall apart, and it probably won't be because they're under-baked," shares Carolyn Truett, a former pastry chef and founder of the dessert recipe blog Caramel and Cashews. "It's because cookies need several minutes to cool and thus firm up."

Serve them warm.

"Let your holiday cookies cool a few minutes before eating, but whenever possible, serve warm," the Chens note. "We've built a whole business around this philosophy, and it does make a difference!"

Baking Hacks for Better Sugar Cookies

While the lengthy list of hacks above can apply to cookies of all kinds, the below tips and tricks are specifically for ever-popular sugar cookies.

Use vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract.

"Christmas cookies of all kinds are quintessential to the season, but sugar cookies are a must. Try dropping some vanilla bean paste into the cookie dough instead of vanilla extract for a more rich flavor," says Justin Gaspar, head baker at Hommage Bakehouse. Gaspar also notes that "a splash of almond extract" will create an aroma that is "...sure to fill up your home and keep you craving more."

Try flavor oils.

"If you're really looking for a boldly flavored sugar cookie dough or icing, reach for flavor oils instead of vanilla extract. Since flavor oils are the essential oils extracted from the ingredients themselves, as opposed to a dilution with alcohol, they offer a more pure, concentrated flavor," notes Pedersen.

"A little bit goes a long way! Just a few drops of flavor oil will make that particular flavor really stand out in whatever you're baking. Just be sure to store those oils in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life and preserve their intensity."

Add some zest.

"I like to use lemon zest in my sugar cookie dough. It gives the dough flavor by adding acidity to balance the sweetness of the cookies," explains Skwiercz. "It just adds that je ne sais quois to the cookie that people love!"

Remember the icing.

"For sugar cookie icing, use a 3-to-1 ratio of vanilla to almond extract," says Laura Warren, executive pastry chef for Puffer Malarkey Collective. "The hints of almond will add more depth of flavor to your icing."

Baking Hacks for Better Gingerbread Cookies

Since gingerbread cookies are a holiday staple, we'd be remiss not to include a few gingerbread-specific pointers from the pros too!

Swap maple syrup for molasses.

"To make gingerbread cookies less bitter, I use Steen's Cane Syrup instead of molasses," says celebrity chef and cookbook author David Guas, who runs Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery in Arlington, Virginia.

Spice things up.

"To spice it up, I add a couple teaspoons of Crystal Hot Sauce [to my gingerbread cookies]," Guas continues. This trick is a nod to Guas' nan's gingerbread cookie recipe, which the chef grew up enjoying.

Refrigerate dough.

"For cut-out cookies like gingerbread men, it's best to refrigerate the dough for 45 minutes first," notes Truett. "It will firm up just enough to make it less sticky and easy to roll out."

Flour cookie cutters.

Assuming you're using cookie cutters to help shape gingerbread treats, be sure to prep these tools accordingly. "Flour your cookie cutters to help make them non-stick," notes Deleasa-Gonsar.

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