recommended by experts

Everything You Need to Bake Holiday Cookies, According to Professional Bakers

Photo: Retailer

The holidays mean cookies, cookies, and more cookies. Whether you’re sending a box full to someone you love, bringing dessert to a dinner party, attending a cookie swap, or leaving a plate out for Santa, odds are by the time the New Year rolls around, you’ll have baked (and eaten!) your fair share. The good news is “you don’t need anything too fancy to make incredible cookies at home,” says Caroline Schiff, pastry chef at Gage & Tollner and head chef at Slow Up.

We chatted with her and other pastry chefs and baking experts about all their favorite equipment, tools, and ingredients to make sure you’ll be turning (and rolling, and slicing) out the very best batches you can, whether you’ve only ever made the occasional chocolate chip cookie or you’re a seasoned baker who simply wants a recommendation for the prettiest sprinkles around. Read on for all the cookie-baking gear you could ever possibly need. And if your fall and winter baking goals go beyond pie, you can find our guides to baking pies here, and baking cakes here.

Mixers and attachments

Unsurprisingly, two of our experts sing the praises of the classic KitchenAid stand mixer. Both recommend the Artisan Series 5-Quart model in particular. “It is just the right size,” says food writer and chef Rachel Gurjar. “It is possibly my most used piece of equipment all year round. I love that it is strong and dependable, and mixes cookie dough perfectly.” According to food photographer and baker Mike Johnson, “a KitchenAid is a must-have for any home baker. While hand mixers can get the job done, it’s nice using a stand mixer and being able to free up your hands for other baking tasks.”

For a more affordable option that contains KitchenAid’s same powerful motor, “this cordless hand mixer should be on every baker’s wish list,” says Kristen Tomlan, founder of Cookie DŌ. She calls it “truly genius,” explaining that “avid bakers know the most annoying thing is having a cord that never reaches where you need it to be and, without fail, ends up in your mixing bowl.” Although writer and recipe developer Ella Quittner stands by the fact that some of the best cookies can be made easily by hand, “for doughs that require creaming, or intensive blending of fat into flour — I’m in a major shortbread phase if you can’t tell — call in motorized help and don’t look back,” she says.

BeaterBlade
$18
$18

Baker and cookbook author Shauna Sever says, “when you’re really cruising through cookie recipes, having to stop and scrape down the bowl is a drag.” That’s why using the right attachment on your stand mixer is so important. She notes that while the squeegee action of the Beater Blade has often been imitated, it’s never been duplicated: “This is the one I go back to again and again,” she says.

Cutters

Claire Saffitz, author of Dessert Person, likes to keep things simple with round, fluted cutters. “I don’t make a ton of shaped cookies,” she says. “The more elaborate the details are, with super-skinny pieces and lots of corners, the harder it is to get everything baked evenly. These are still really cute, and easy to punch out.”

Cookbook author and recipe developer Susan Spungen likes the round fluted shape, but prefers the plastic version, which she says “will last a lifetime, along with being easier to clean and care for than metal ones, which can rust and bend.”

If you want to get into more intricate design, Molly Yeh, cookbook author and host of Food Network’s Girl Meets Farm, loves these tiny cookie cutters, which she uses for “marzipan cutout decorations, itsy-bitsy linzers, and homemade cookie cereal.” The stainless steel set is “durable and sharp so they help achieve a super polished look.”

Baking mats and parchment paper

Silpats are “thin baking mats that create a heat-proof, nonstick silicone surface on any baking sheet,” explains Schiff. “They are super easy to clean and reusable, which cuts down on waste in a big way.” They’ll also make your pans last longer, since, as Schiff explains, most surfaces wear away over time. Gurjar says this Silpat from Williams Sonoma has been one of the best investments she made in the kitchen. “It’s reusable, nonstick, and bakes perfect cookies every time because of how evenly it distributes the heat.” Plus, it saves you from having to scrub your baking sheets.

Spungen told us she prefers these baking mats because “they’re thinner than the typical Silpats, and they stick to the counter in a way that makes it really easy to roll a tricky dough right on the mat without it sliding around.”

If you’d rather not invest in a mat, precut parchment paper, sized to fit a half-sheet pan perfectly, will be your best friend. You don’t have to worry about the paper curling underneath and not lying flat, and they make cleanup a breeze. Tomlan and Julia Turshen, author of Simply Julia, are both big fans. An added bonus: Parchment paper can also be used to separate layers of cookies if you’re taking them to go in a storage container; just cut it down to the right size.

Scrapers

Sever says a bench scraper will make baking “delightful and easy.” Among its myriad uses in the kitchen, she says, “it’s ideal for lifting and moving doughs while rolling to prevent sticking, transferring chopped chocolate and nuts to your mixing bowl, cutting dough logs into neat portions, and cleaning off a work surface with ease.”

Schiff calls this scraper “the unsung hero,” of every dough she makes. She always has one in her apron pocket. Along with doing all the tasks Sever mentions above, “They’re so useful for getting the last bits of dough gathered up out of the bowl and into a ball,” she says. “Due to the stiff material, they’re much more effective than a standard, handled spatula.”

Spatulas

Editor and food stylist Erin Jeanne McDowell says GIR has been her favorite spatula maker for years because “the grip is perfect and not at all slippery, and they are strong enough to do a great job of scraping to the bottom of the mixing bowl, even for stiffer doughs.” She loves that they come in an array of sizes and colors, and especially likes using the mini ones to mix up different colors of icing for decorating.

OXO Fish Spatula
$14
$14

Don’t let the name of this spatula fool you, Sever says. “Of all the handled things rattling in my kitchen drawers, this is what I reach for the most, for both baking and cooking.” As she explains, “its thin, flexible, vented blade makes it perfect for lifting even the most delicate baked good from a pan or baking sheet.”

Gurjar and Saffitz both say an offset spatula is a must-have tool in the kitchen, especially for baking. You can use it to transfer raw cutout dough shapes to your baking sheet or warm cookies to a cooling rack, and to spread and clean icing to make your final product. Saffitz notes that not all offsets are created equal, though. “Don’t buy one that is tapered,” she says. “They’re not as stable.”

Pans and bowls

While McDowell typically buys baking sheets at restaurant supply stores, she told us she’s “fallen hard for these colorful baking sheets,” from Great Jones. “They bake incredibly evenly, are super nonstick and easy to clean, and look amazing to boot!” They come in both navy blue and dark green.

These pans may not be fancy, but “they do the best job,” Schiff says. “The half-sheet size fits perfectly in most home ovens, and the weight and gage of aluminum, along with a rim, means they won’t warp easily. So go ahead and bake with abandon.” Saffitz likes the similar Strat-approved ones from Nordic Ware. For even more sheet-pan recommendations, head here.

“If you think I’m not speaking exclusively in a Paul Hollywood voice and labeling everything that comes out of my oven with a single, clipped ‘underbaked’ this holiday season, you are delusional,” Quittner says. “To round out one-woman fantasies of competing in The Great British Bake Off, I use this bowl. As a bonus, its sturdy stature means one-handed stirring rarely goes awry.”

Rolling pins

“If I were a sports person, I would compare having the right rolling pin to having the right golf club or baseball bat for your body’s movement,” Sever says. “I’ve tried every type of rolling pin and met my match with a solid maple rolling dowel, like the 19-inch one from JK Adams,” which she says gives her good control of her doughs. It’s also “gorgeous and takes on the most beautiful patina over time the kind of thing you’ll want to pass down as an heirloom.” Saffitz agrees, saying that a non-tapered pin like this gives you more control.

Spungen prefers a rolling pin with spacers, which she says makes rolling cookies “really easy and beautiful.” While the original one she recommended is no longer available, this similar model from Food52 fits the bill. It has five sets of removable discs that will raise your rolling surface so you can achieve the exact thickness you need each time you roll out your dough. While she used to think these were for less experienced bakers, she’s now “a convert.” When rolling shortbread or sugar cookies, “you won’t have any unevenness that leads to burnt spots, and all your cookies will bake at the same rate.”

If you already have a beloved rolling pin, Spungen says you can buy spacers separately.

Other accessories

While Sever says there’s nothing wrong with using cups and spoons to measure baking ingredients, when she started weighing ingredients, her “baking life got even happier: better results, more efficient, and cleaner with fewer dirty dishes.” Most pros agree. Volume measurements can vary pretty drastically from cup to cup, whereas weights are exact. Sever’s favorite scale is this “workhorse” from MyWeight because it’s “sturdy, has a shield over the buttons to keep it from getting gunky, and comes with an AC adapter as well as batteries, so you’ll never be without a functioning scale during marathon cookie baking sessions.” Professional baker and author Hetal Vasavada likes the Oxo Precision Scale, which doubles as a kitchen timer. And Schiff recommends the Escali Primo Lightweight Scale, which is the cheapest of all three options, but still professional-grade (Strategist has even written about this workhorse multiple times).

From $17

Dorie Greenspan, New York Times Magazine columnist and author of Dorie’s Cookies, uses cookie scoops for everything from chocolate-chip cookies to meringue snowballs. “I love the grip and the spring-action” on these, she says. Sever and Saffitz are fans, too, with Saffitz noting that while you don’t need this tool, it’s certainly worth having. It ensures that all your cookies will be perfectly even (a.k.a. professional-looking) and also makes for very quick and efficient portioning. You can find cookie scoops in multiple sizes, but if you’re buying your first, a safe bet is one that holds around 1.5 tablespoons of dough, which will work for most cookies.

Mandel also recommends this super cheap stainless steel shaker and promises it’s a “real gamechanger.” The shaker efficiently disperses a light-handed, even layer of flour to her counter before rolling out dough, she says. And when you’re churning out batch after batch of cookies, “it’s the little things” that’ll make the process more seamless.

For next-level design (or, you know, if you’re doing a fun project with kids), Saffitz recommends a piping-tip decorating set, which she says has “everything you need and nothing you don’t.” It comes with six different tips, one pastry bag, and one coupler, which you secure between the bag and the tip. “My biggest problem with icing cookies is how messy it gets,” says Saffitz. “But the coupler allows you to change tips without emptying the whole bag.”

Ingredients

To ensure your cookies taste as good as they look, invest in high-quality spices. Vasavada swears by Burlap & Barrel’s cinnamon, which she calls “out of this world” because “it’s naturally sweet (think Big Red), packs a punch of cinnamon flavor, and a little bit goes a long way.” It’s so tasty, in fact, that she has to hide it from her daughter, who eats it straight from the jar.

“If you’re looking to level up your bakes, use vanilla paste” instead of extract, Vasavada says. “The paste has vanilla seeds suspended in a thick liquid, which not only gives you that real vanilla speckled look, but also makes your bakes taste bakery-made.”

“When it comes to home baking and big batches of cookies, my top criteria are a balance of quality and accessibility,” Schiff says. That’s why she always keeps a bin full of Guittard chocolates in her pantry for various home projects. “My favorite are the wafers designed for baking, which come in milk and dark percentages, and are, in my opinion, far superior to chips.” Because they have a disc shape, “you get a much wider distribution of chocolate throughout the cookie, and by adding a few on top before baking, you’ll get those delicious pools and puddles of chocolate on top.”

Decorations

“I swear by Americolor Gel Food Coloring because it comes in the prettiest colors,” says Yeh, who especially loves their jewel tones like gold, peacock, forest green, and chili pepper. She says using vibrant color palettes can elevate your Christmas cookies, regardless of your frosting skill level.

While Yeh says it’s hard to choose just one sprinkle brand — “because it’s like choosing a favorite child” — these are some of her go-tos. Tomlan also loves Sweetapolita, which she says “has the best sprinkle mixes for all things baking, decorating, and even hiding those not-so-Pinterest-y parts of your treats.”

“Sprinkle Pop Shop has it all. Their mixes are the cutest, and they always offer free shipping,” says Johnson. They also currently have a variety of holiday products, like this winter-y mix, which includes a blend of blues, silver, and red sprinkles, as well as white snowflakes and snowmen.

“This company elevates something kitschy to a culinary art,” says Sever. “All their sprinkles and décor blends are colorful, crunchy, and resist melting in a hot oven. Best of all, they’re made with excellent ingredients so they actually taste good — no gross waxy feel like cheap supermarket jimmies.”

While Greenspan prefers a more tailored look to her cookies, if she is going to add something for looks, she reaches for Valrhona Chocolate Pearls because “they manage to be elegant and yummy at the same time.”

Quittner likes to keep a few King Arthur Flour finishing products on hand, like their pearl sugar, “so I have options for adding a ‘flourish’ — I’m doing the salt bae hand motion, you just can’t see it — to any baked good with minimal extra effort.”

For less traditional options, Mandel suggests perusing nuts.com because “they have amazing quality and prices, and ship very fast.” Some of her favorite things include dried cantaloupe (“try not to eat the whole bag before adding to your baking”), malted milk ball centers, and these dragon fruit chips, which she says are “amazing for decoration.”

Even more baking essentials

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Everything You Need to Bake Holiday Cookies