{baking basics 101} How to Make Cut-Out Cookies

Is it just me or does a plate piled high with cut-out cookies look both elegant and homespun at the same time? Over the years, however, I’ve had many people tell me that they avoid making cut-out cookies. Due to bad experiences, they only make drop cookies. And while drop cookies are wonderful, it’s nice having a recipe for cut-out cookies in your repertoire.

Here are some essential “dos and don’ts”
for cut-out cookies:

Don’t Over Cream the Butter and Sugar
Many recipes, including the one I shared below, call for you to “cream” the fat (butter or shortening) with sugar. This important step creates pockets of air in the fat-sugar mixture.  The trapped air expands during baking and causes the cookies to rise. While we welcome the added boost the creaming method lends to cakes or other baked goods, we don’t want too much rise in cut-out cookies.  Why?  If cookies  rise too much, they puff and spread. So those cute shapes you selected come out of the oven looking more like amoebas than anything else.

To prevent puffy, spread out cookies, cream the butter and sugar together on medium-low speed until a thick paste forms. Once that happens, stop your mixer and add the dry ingredients.

Do Chill the Dough
Freshly mixed cookie dough is warm. Warm cookie dough hard to roll and it really spreads during baking. After you mix your dough, lightly flour your countertop, pat your dough into a round, and chill for at least one to two hours. To make life easier, consider mixing your dough the night before you plan to bake. This gives it a chance to chill overnight.

Do Allow the Dough to Soften–Slightly. (For butter-based cookies*.)
Have you ever had dough break apart while you attempted to roll it out? Chances are the dough was too cold. While it sounds counterintuitive to allow cold dough to warm up a bit, that’s just what you want to do. Allow it to sit on the counter for five to ten minutes. Then feel the dough. I like to pinch off a piece. If its bends as I pinch, it’s ready. If it breaks off in a large chunk, the dough is still too cold.

*When chilled, shortening doesn’t get as hard as butter. You can usually roll out cookie dough made with shortening right from the refrigerator. As long as it’s pliable and not brittle, you’re ready to go.

Do Dust the Counter, Dough and Rolling Pin Lightly with Flour
Before rolling out your dough, dust your work surface, the top of the dough and your rolling pin lightly with flour. You don’t want to use too much flour. A light dusting prevents the dough from sticking to your counter and pin but won’t dry out your cookies.  

Don’t Roll the Dough Too Thin
For basic cut-out cookies, roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thick and no thinner than 1/8-inch thick. Cookies thinner than 1/8-inch thin bake up very crispy and brittle, making them hard to ice when cooled.

Do Use a Metal Spatula to Transfer the Cookies to the Pan
After cutting the dough, slide a metal or cookie spatula under it  to transfer the dough safely to a parchment-lined baking sheet. This prevents the dough from breaking or distorting as you move it.

Don’t Cramp the Cookies
Leave at least 1 1/2-inches between each cookie on your baking sheet. The cookies might spread a little during baking, leaving space between them prevents them from touching and sticking to each other.

Do Cool Your Cookies on a Wire Rack
Allow the cookies to cool on the pan for about two minutes. Then transfer to a wire rack. (Use a metal or cookie spatula to do this.) Cooling on a wire rack allows steam to escape–giving your cookies a crisp, not soggy, texture.

Don’t  Let Excess Dough Go to Waste
After cutting out a batch of cookies, you’ll have leftover dough. Simply gather the dough scraps, dust your counter with flour and re-roll. For gluten-free cookies, you don’t need to worry about the cookies getting tough. There isn’t any gluten in the dough to toughen it!  Avoid re-rolling warm dough. If your dough feels warm, simply chill it for ten to twenty minutes before re-rolling.

Do Use a Cool Cookie Pan
While it’s tempting to use a fresh-from-oven cookie sheet for your second batch of cookies, avoid this. A warm cookie sheet=oily cookies. For each batch, use a cool cookie sheet. I have several cookie sheets on hand for this reason. If you don’t have several cookie sheets, no problem. Allow your pan to cool for about three minutes and then run it under cool water. Dry the pan and you’re ready to go.


RECIPE: Gluten-Free Cut-Out Cookies

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup sweet rice flour
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

Wet Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup shortening or butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 teaspoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Set aside.
  2. In stand mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment, cream together shortening and sugar until a thick paste forms. Use medium-low speed. (For handheld mixer, use medium speed.)  Turn off mixer.Scrape down bottom and sides of the bowl. Add egg. Turn mixer on to medium speed and blend to combine.
  3. Turn off mixer and add  dry ingredients.
  4. Turn  mixer to medium and blend. Dough will look dry.
  5. Add milk and vanilla. Mix until a dough forms, about one minute. At first, the dough will look dry but it does come together.
  6. Turn dough out onto lightly white rice floured work surface. Divide dough in half. Pat into rounds, wrap with plastic wrap and chill for one hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  8. Roll out one of the dough rounds on lightly white rice-floured work surface. Dough should be about 1/4-inch thick.
  9. Cut dough into shapes. Transfer dough to baking sheet using a metal spatula.
  10. Bake cookies until edges are just golden brown. (Baking time varies depending on the size of your cookies. My 3-inch hearts took about 12 minutes. Keep your eye on the first batch of cookies to help you with the timing.)
  11. Repeat until all dough is used.

Yield will vary depending on the cutters you use. I made about 2 dozen 3-inch hearts.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Really good tips here – I do all the wrong things and end up with tasty but deformed cookies! Next time I’m baking, I’ll be making sure I do what you said here!

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