Approximately one billion cookies are left out for Santa as he makes his delivery rounds on Christmas Eve.
In other words, you’ve got some stiff competition if you’re trying to impress the jolly guy! Or, hey, maybe you just need some extra edge to win a cookie contest at work this year.
Either way, we’ve rounded up tips from professional bakers, including one who was crowned the Christmas cookie champ by Food Network after three rounds of cookie baking. (One round required crafting a 3-D cookie globe. Whoa.)
Here are some rookie cookie mistakes, and how to fix them!
1. You’re Over-Creaming Your Butter And Sugar
Ever wonder why your sugar cookie went into the oven looking like a snowman but came out as an unrecognizable blob?
When you over-cream your butter and sugar, it causes your sugar cookie cutouts to spread and lose their shape, explains Brittani Brooker, the 2016 Food Network Christmas Cookie Champion.
To remedy this, Brooker lends this expert tip: “Pop the cutouts into the freezer and allow to freeze fully before baking.”
Then, bake your sugar cookies at a higher temperature. Freezing the cookies will freeze the butter and keep your cookies from spreading once they’re in the oven.
2. You’re Over-Working Your Dough
Cookies become too tough when the dough is over-worked or over-mixed, explains Danay Powers, a baker and the owner of a cupcake shop in Erie, Colorado.
“You want to mix your dough just until the ingredients you added are incorporated,” she tells us. Re-rolling might be inevitable, so it’s another reason why you don’t want to over-mix in the beginning.
3. You Ignore The “Room Temp” Instructions
If you want fluffy, soft cookies, you need to let your dairy ingredients reach warm temperatures. That’s because eggs, butter and milk form an emulsion that can trap air and will expand in the oven.
“The test for this is when you push your finger into the butter, it has a little give,” Powers explains. “Not enough to push your finger through the butter; that would be too warm. But just enough to indent the butter when you push on it.”
Remember, patience is key! “Room temp for the eggs, butter and milk will make your cookies that much better,” he said.
4. You Didn’t Prep Your Bake Station
A common mistake people make is forgetting to organize the necessary tools ahead of time. They start mixing things, only to end up stressing out over where they left those important ingredients and utensils, says Janet Tatarka, Director of Bakery Logistics and Training of Great Harvest Bread Company.
“Often the people that end up tossing the bag of flour in the cabinet from their last baking session end up with stale flour—and a mess when they unroll that flour-filled paper flap,” she says.
The best bakers, Tatarka says, have all the most common ingredients at their fingertips. The French call it mise en place.
“This means to have everything in place ahead of time, tools out, recipes have been read all the way through, oven is preheated and ingredients are laid out,” Tatarka says.
To really get this right, she suggests reading through your entire recipe beforehand, having everything chopped, measured and ready to go.
5. You’re Overlooking Shortening
This tip comes from Crisco, so it’s no surprise there’s some shortening bias here! But there’s some science to this, too.
Brandi Milloy, a baking expert with Crisco, says using butter-based dough to make cookie cutouts causes the shapes to spread more.
Shortening has a higher melting point than butter, she explains. So dough made with shortening tends to spread less in the oven, resulting in thick, fluffy cookies that retain their cookie cutter shape.
6. You’re Leaving Your Thin Cookies In The Oven Too Long
Thin cookies only need about 15 minutes to bake, says Allison Luckman of Allie’s Gluten-Free Goodies.
“Even if they seem a bit underdone, just let them sit a few minutes on a sheet pan and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely,” she says.
7. You’re Not Accounting For High Altitude
This one hits home for me. I live in Denver, which is also known as the “Mile High City” because of the elevation at 5,280 feet.
For anyone who lives at high altitudes, about 3,500 feet or higher, you’ll need to make some tweaks to recipes.
Betty Crocker has put together a really helpful chart that covers adjustments for all types of baked goods, including cakes, bread, muffins, biscuits and scones.
As far as cookies go, though, you’ll need to add some extra flour (usually a tablespoon or two) and decrease your butter.