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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
$21
$21

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