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The pitfalls of cut-outs

You aren't alone if making cut-out cookies gives you fits.

By JANET K. KEELER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 27, 2000


Cut it out!
Those picture-perfect cookies on magazine covers are, of course, made by professionals. We set out to see if a group of kids could make something just as wonderful. They turned it into a fun and tasty experiment.

Cookie recipes

You aren't alone if making cut-out cookies gives you fits.

Caterer Margaret Ann Wilson of St. Petersburg said she doesn't even offer them any more because they are so labor intensive.

"We'd have to charge too much," the owner of Margaret Ann's Catering said. "The problems with cut-out cookies are universal."

There is much that can go wrong: dough sticks to rolling surfaces and pin; dough gets soft and tears during rolling; it's difficult to roll out evenly; cookies get misshapen on their way to the baking sheet; cookies break after they are made. That's enough to make you want to swear off cookie cutters for good.

If you've tried and failed, try again using these tips from Wilson and Marlene Milburn, a Tampa restauranteur and caterer. First-time baker? Be thankful you don't have any bad habits to break.

Dough meant for cookie cut-outs is similar to pastry or biscuit dough and should be refrigerated until needed. "Roll small batches at a time and keep the rest in the fridge," Milburn said. "Do maybe a dozen (cookies) then go get more dough."

Make sure the rolling surface and the pin are well-floured to prevent sticking.

An alternative to rolling dough on a countertop is to roll it on parchment paper. Cut the parchment paper to the size of the baking sheet and tape it down so it won't slide. Cut out the cookies and lift off excess. Lift paper gently and place on baking sheet. This eliminates one handling step. (Parchment paper, designed for baking, and wax paper are not the same. If you cannot find it at the grocery store, look for it at craft and party supply stores.)

The more the dough is rolled, the tougher it gets and the tougher the cookie will be. "It won't be a melt-in-your mouth cookie but very chewy," Wilson said.

Roll the dough to the thickness called for in the recipe. A too-thin cookie breaks easily during and after baking. A too-thick cookie tastes doughy. Wilson says if you err, err on the side of thickness. "They may not taste as good but they'll hold together."

Cookie dough can be frozen. It should be stored airtight and will keep for about a week. Finished cookies can also be frozen in airtight containers, but should be cooled first.

Dip sharp edge of cookie cutters in flour before cutting dough to prevent sticking. Also, press down firmly just once. Do not wiggle the cutter or you might alter the shape of the cookie.

Expect some breakage, especially if you are using large cutters or ones with irregular shapes. You'll have better luck with circles, hearts, stars, suns, snowmen.

Don't want to make your own dough? Experiment with store-bought refrigerated sugar cookie dough. Cut off slices and use miniature cutters or roll them out slightly and use larger cutters. You can even try rolling out the entire tube, taking care not to over handle or it will fall apart.

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