As traditional as decorating the tree, stringing lights or sipping eggnog while watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” baking Christmas cookies is a holiday must.
“Cookies are by far my favorite treat to bake for the holidays,” says Heather Mubarak, whose blog, Browned Butter Blondie, offers baking recipes, tutorials and more. “They’re fun to make, delicious to eat and they’re always a crowd-pleaser.”
But before turning your kitchen into a gingerbread, sugar cookie and peanut butter blossom factory, you need to get organized. “Start by making a list of the treats you want to bake followed by a list of the ingredients you’ll need,” Mubarak says. “There’s nothing worse than having to make a midnight run to the market because you used up your last cup of sugar.”
Lindsay Conchar of Life, Love and Sugar says holiday cookie baking should be fun and stress-free, so giving yourself time is essential. “Turn on that Christmas music, gather your kids or some friends and celebrate the season,” she says. “Also, be sure to have the right tools. It can make a huge difference.”
We asked four cookie baking connoisseurs for their most essential Christmas cookie baking tools — sure to help take your next batch from ho-hum to a jolly Santa-approved ho-ho-ho.
Essential Christmas cookie supplies
Williams Sonoma Goldtouch Pro Nonstick 3-Piece Sheet Pan Set ($79.95; williams-sonoma.com)
“High-quality cookie sheets are essential to cookie baking success,” Mubarak says. “I find that dark baking sheets often lead to overbaked cookies, and thin, flimsy cookie sheets don’t stand up to wear and tear. Invest in a few sturdy cookie sheets that are light in color and made of nonstick, aluminized steel for even heating.” She says these commercial-quality sheets from Williams Sonoma are her go-tos for perfectly baked cookies. “I highly recommend purchasing at least two cookie sheets so that you can rotate the pans and allow for cooling time between baking cycles.”
Wilton Bake It Better 3-Piece Cookie Sheet Set ($11; walmart.com)
“A good cookie sheet makes a big difference and helps produce a cookie that’s softer and doesn’t burn on the bottom,” Conchar says. This set of three nonstick cookie sheets includes small, medium and large pans for a variety of cookie sizes.
Silpat Cookie Sheet Baking Mat ($27.95; surlatable.com)
“Silicone baking mats produce evenly baked, perfectly golden brown cookies,” Mubarak says. “They’re also reusable and dishwasher-safe, making cleanup a breeze.”
Silpat Perfect Cookie Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat ($28.95; amazon.com)
Conchar includes a nonstick silicone baking mat among her cookie baking essentials as well. “The Silpat brand produces the nicest spread of all I’ve tried,” she says. Complete with 13 evenly spaced markings for cookies that won’t stick, using this Silpat means there’s no need to spray, butter or grease your pan (and also means — hooray! — very little pan cleanup).
’Baker Bettie’s Better Baking Book’ by Kristin Hoffman (starting at $8.69; amazon.com)
Kristin Hoffman, known as Baker Bettie on her popular YouTube channel, wrote “Baker Bettie’s Better Baking Book” to help explain the science behind baking, along with techniques and tips. “When making cutout cookies for the holidays, take care to not overcrowd your pan with too many cookies at once, and be sure your oven is truly up to temperature,” she says. “This will help prevent the most common issue I see with cutout cookies, which is them not holding their shape during baking. When the cookie doesn’t get enough heat to it at the beginning of the baking process the outside of it doesn’t set before the butter melts. This results in them spreading and not holding their shape.”
Oneida Stainless Steel Ice Cream Scoop ($9.97, originally $13.99; walmart.com)
“I am a huge fan of using cookie scoops when portioning any of my drop cookies because it keeps them all the same size and perfectly round,” Hoffman says. “Oneida makes the best scoops I have found and I have used both their small scoop and large scoop to portion out literally thousands of cookies without them breaking.”
Oxo Good Grips Large Cookie Scoop ($16.86; amazon.com)
You can never have too many cookie scoops, Mubarak adds. “The best cookie scoops are made from stainless steel with comfort grips and a spring-loaded lever for easy scooping,” she says. “This large cookie scoop from Oxo is my all-time favorite, and it’s a workhorse that will last for years to come.
Sheet Pan Rack ($149.99; webrestaurantstore.com)
“One of my absolute favorite kitchen tools, especially for cookie baking, is a countertop sheet pan rack that holds half sheet pans,” Hoffman says. “This is the perfect solution when making large amounts of cookies for the holidays. You can put seven half sheet pans to cool on the rack, clearing up tons of counter space.”
Christmas cookie decorating supplies and tips
’52 Weeks, 52 Sweets’ by Vedika Luthra (starting at $9.99; amazon.com)
Vedika Luthra’s new book of unique desserts includes sweets from her Indian heritage and around the world with a new recipe for every week of the year. The woman behind the “Hot Chocolate Hits” YouTube channel says when baking a lot of holiday cookies it’s best to keep things simple.
“Sugar cookies and butter cookies are popular ones to make around the holidays,” she says. “You don’t always need to decorate your cookies, especially with butter cookies that are packed with flavor and can easily be customized by adding in chocolate or nuts.”
Luthra suggests thinking of your cookie like a blank canvas. “There’s so much potential for creativity and design, and you can get as creative as you like with them,” she says. “The essentials for cookie decorating, at least to me, are fun cookie cutters, icing, piping bags with fun nozzles and plenty of sprinkles. I like to keep things simple, so a slightly tinted pastel frosting (think pink) and gold sprinkles are what I like best.”
Or experiment with different toppings, such as crushed pistachios, crushed toffee or M&Ms, she adds. “Anything goes.”
Riccle Disposable Piping Bags ($9.99; amazon.com)
“Disposable piping bags make for far easier cleanup compared to a piping bag you need to wash,” Luthra says. These thick pastry bags are a bestseller on Amazon and get high ratings for being strong, anti-burst and nonslip. She also recommends a No. 21 star tip (“a fun tip to decorate cookies with”) and a No. 1 round tip (“great for more intricate cookie decorating”).
Hershey’s Holiday Candy Cane Kisses ($26.95, originally $29.95 for 4.45-pound bag; amazon.com)
Hoffman says sprinkles and small candies can be your best friend when decorating cookies. “Mini M&M’s make adorable Christmas lights, Red Hots make great holly berries and pretzels are the perfect antlers for reindeer,” she says. “Or you can make it really easy on yourself and use Candy Cane Hershey’s Kisses to dress up everyone’s favorite holiday cookie, Peanut Butter Blossoms.”
CK Products Squeeze Bottle Set ($9.99; amazon.com)
“Chances are, if you are decorating holiday cookies you’ll be working with royal icing,” Mubarak says. “These inexpensive squeeze bottles are easier to fill and maneuver than traditional piping bags, which means you can crank out more cookies in less time.”
AmeriColor Food Coloring Gel Paste Junior Kit ($23; amazon.com)
Americolor gel colors are great for coloring icing for cookie decorating, Conchar says. “With gels, you don’t need as much to get a vibrant color. Plus, these particular ones come in squeeze bottles, which makes them easy to use and less messy.” This kit comes with eight .75-ounce bottles in red, dark pink, violet, sky blue, lemon yellow, leaf green, orange and chocolate brown.
Oxo Good Grips Bent Icing Spatula ($10.30, originally $10.95; amazon.com)
Luthra also recommends an offset spatula. “A smaller offset spatula works wonders when frosting cookies as opposed to a butter knife,” she says. “You have far more control over the spread.” Oxo’s 5-star-rated version is flexible, nonslip and dishwasher-safe.
Cookie cutters and more baking essentials
Ateco Stainless Steel Christmas Cookie Cutters ($15.53; walmart.com)
“While plastic cookie cutters are a safe bet for the kids, the best cookie cutters are made from sturdy metal and deliver a sharp, clean cut when pressed into soft dough,” Mubarak says. She recommends keeping a collection of traditional holiday cutters in shapes such as trees and snowflakes, along with simple circles and hearts. “Wash and dry your cookie cutters by hand and you can pass them down for generations.”
Ann Clark Christmas Cookie Cutters, Set of 3 ($9.99; amazon.com)
“For cutout cookies, cookie cutters are a fun way to elevate your cookie without doing much,” Luthra says. Ann Clark’s set of three 1-inch-deep alloy steel cookie cutters includes a snowman, Santa and reindeer face.
Williams Sonoma French Tapered Marble Rolling Pin ($39.95; williams-sonoma.com)
“Every good cookie maker needs a great rolling pin,” Mubarak says. “You simply cannot make Grandma’s gingerbread cookies or traditional Linzers without one.” She says she’s had the most success with this French marble rolling pin with tapered ends. “The smooth surface keeps the dough from sticking and makes it easy to clean.”
Muso French Wood Rolling Pin ($12.98; amazon.com)
For cutout cookies, Hoffman says she always opts for a French-style tapered rolling pin. “This gives you much better control over how even you are rolling your dough,” she says. “If you want to get really precise with the thickness of your dough, you could even opt for an adjustable rolling pin with removable rings so you can set the desired thickness to keep all of your cookies perfectly the same thickness.”
Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, 4 Ounces ($17.99; amazon.com)
When stocking up on your holiday cookie baking supplies, be sure to have plenty of vanilla extract on hand. Luthra calls it a “go-to for cookie recipes. Just a little bit works wonders with the flavor.” Nielsen-Massey’s version gets rave reviews on Amazon for its pure, premium Madagascar vanilla extract.
Hotec Silicone Rubber Spatulas, Set of 5 ($14.99, originally $15.99; amazon.com)
Luthra says a silicone spatula works wonders with any type of baking. “This way you won’t leave any of the dough behind in the bowl,” she says. This 5-star-rated colorful food-grade silicone spatula set comes in a variety of sizes and shapes and is dishwasher-safe.
Smartake 200-Piece Parchment Paper Baking Sheets ($14.99, originally $15.99; amazon.com)
Luthra is also a big fan of parchment paper. “If you’ve never used parchment paper before when baking, you’ll notice a huge difference in your cookies,” she says. “They will bake more evenly, and make for easier cleanup. An essential for all bakers, it works like magic for cakes, and you can even use it to make your own DIY piping bag.” Make your life even easier with this highly reviewed precut parchment paper that includes 200 food-grade sheets with no curling edges to deal with.
Glad Press’n Seal Plastic Food Wrap ($14.97; amazon.com)
“Cookie dough works best when it’s had a chance to chill in the fridge,” Luthra says. “Wrap it tightly with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. It also works great when freezing cookie dough to use later, and can be used to shape your cookie into a log for slice-and-bake cookies if you don’t have a cookie cutter.”
Greater Goods Digital Food Kitchen Scale ($12.88, originally $19.95; amazon.com)
Conchar says a food scale is a baking essential for all things, but especially cookies. “When measuring your dry ingredients, like flour, you want to be as accurate as possible so that your cookies spread as they are supposed to — or aren’t supposed to. You don’t want dry cookies.” This Greater Goods food scale gets high ratings with more than 115,000 Amazon reviews for its simple, modern design, easy-to-read display and ability to measure down to the gram.
Wondershop Snowflake Cookie Tin ($3; target.com)
If you’re planning to bake several kinds of cookies for the holidays, Hoffman advises choosing at least one recipe that tastes best after being aged so that you can make it far in advance to reduce stress. “Spice cookies like gingerbread typically taste best after letting them age for at least a week before serving,” she says. “In fact, it is a common tradition in my hometown in Kansas to make peppernuts, which are tiny spiced cookies the size of a nut, on Thanksgiving so they will be aged and perfect to eat on Christmas.” Store them in a festive tin like this red snowflake number and try to restrain yourself from sneaking bites early.