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Tips on using cookie cutters, please!

I've made tons and tons of cookies, but I've never before ventured into the realm of cookie cutters, so I thought I'd solicit my fellow ChowHounders for some advice before I make my maiden voyage. I have cookie recipes that I love and plan to use, but am wondering if you have any tips on things such as thickness of dough, specific types of cookie cutters, etc. that I should know about. Ideally, I'd like to make:

Sugar cookies shaped like candy canes
Gingerbread men
Choc Chip cookies shaped like xmas trees (this is the one I'm really concerned about...will the chocolate chips mess up the shape? Should I use mini choc chips or something like that to help maintain shape?)

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  1. Don't roll the dough too thin - it will be a brittle cookie and increase the probability of breakage.

    Use cutters that don't have too many corners or extended appendages in the shape (e.g. a gingerbread person with a "pudgier" shape will be less likely to break later). I bought a great cutter at William Sonoma a year ago (about 6" high) - the equivalent of a large cookie, and big enough to decorate with 'clothing' made of icing, sprinkles and candies.

    Use a silicon mat for baking. The cookies won't stick and will be much easier to transfer to cooling racks.

    The size of your tree form should dictate the logic of using standard chips or miniature. Perhaps on the first batch, make half with large chips and half with miniature. Which ever doesn't work gets to be eaten by chef and fortunate 'volunteer testers' in the vicinity!

    Happy baking!

    1. If you refrigerate the cut-out cookies before you bake them, the edges will be sharper. I've chilled them anywhere from 10 to 30 min. and it has helped.

      1. If you want to make lots of cookies to give out, make sure to get some small size cookie cutters, you can also use them to cut out shaped sandwiches for appetizers throughout the year.

        1. Sometimes the dough will stick to the cutters. An easy solution is to keep a little dish of flour next to you and dip your cutter in the flour occasionally.

          1. Chocolate chips are hard to cut through, so the mini chips would be less of a problem when cutting.

            1. I love Alton Brown's idea of putting rubber bands the thickness of 1/8" on both sides of your rolling pin so the dough rolls to a perfect thickness. They also sell tools for that but the rubber bands are clever.

              Roll the dough out on silpat mats or parchment paper, cut and then remove the excess. If you roll elsewhere and try to move it, you can get distorted shapes. Don't use cookie cutters that are plastic and covered on top--it's hard to remove the dough from those.

              5 Replies
              1. re: chowser

                i think alton brown deserves to be knighted.

                i don"t really understand the rubberband suggestion though...how does that help roll out your dough evenly? would you mind explaining this a little more thoroughly? oh and also, if you happen to know which alton episode (i assume it"s a good eats episode?) had that tip, i may try and track it down to see his demonstration. thank you!

                1. re: Aloo0628

                  It was an old episode so I can't remember when/what it was. It helps with making the dough even. You put wide rubberbands on the ends, as many as you need (one on top of the other) until it's 1/8" thick. They sell spacers to do this, too, but I love clever ideas. A picture is worth a thousand words:


                  I agree about Alton Brown being knighted.;-) I've read that he's a good tipper, too.

                  1. re: chowser

                    OHHH i see, so the thickness of the bands = the thickness of the dough. brilliant!

                    so new question: how thick is the thickest i can go and still have the cookies come out shapely? i like my cookies to be nice and thick, especially with the recipe i'm using, so the balls of dough that i usually shape them into for baking tend to be fairly tall (inch and a halfish, i would say).

                    1. re: Aloo0628

                      Honestly, I wing it with thickness. I've read the 1/8" a lot of places so used that but I think you can easily go up to 1/4".

                      That's a great side that Covert Ops posted below--lots of good information. I used to go there but completely forgot about the site. Thanks, Covert Ops!

                2. re: chowser

                  I just watched the Alton Brown cookie episode with the rubber bands last night! It's called "The Cookie Clause" and the transcript is available here: http://goodeatsfanpage.com/Season7/Co...
                  The pictures in the transcript demonstrate the rubber-band rolling-pin method.
                  He also suggests:
                  -- Plastic cookie cutters instead of metal, because the metal ones can get bent
                  -- Placing all your cookie cutters on top of the dough to get optimum placement, then pushing straight down on top of them -- no wiggling!
                  -- Use a small thin spatula to lift both cookie and cutter onto cookie sheet. Don't remove the cutter until cookie has been move.

                3. I was rolling some refrigerated dough for cutting last night and found 1/4" was working nicely - and it depends somewhat on the recipe and ratios - I had to adjust to more flour to make the shapes "hold" better during baking - also, worked best for me to use small amounts of dough at a time (keep bulk and work scraps back into refrigerated dough mass) and space cookies more than usual on the sheets for ease of cooking and transfer - another thing, some, but not all, cutters have an "obvious" cutting side (which we had to point out to the kids!)

                  1. I personally like the metal cutters better b/c they don't stick as much. Cold dough in small batches is the main thing - with metal cutters, you can put these in the freezer in between batches as well. The flour to dip the cutter in is also important. I use a butter knife to gently press the dough out of the cutter if it gets a bit stuck. I also find that the more "complex" cutters (Christmas trees etc) work best in the smaller sizes (about 3" high) and the gingerbread peeps are better with the bigger, simpler cutters.....

                    1. Consider this recipe which has an unusual method and rolls the dough out directly on the (ungreased) cookie sheet---then you remove the extra. It is SO much easier. GINGER COOKIES:
                      Dough: In saucepan put 1 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup dark Karo syrup, 1/2 cup water, 1 tablespoon (yes) ginger, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons cloves. Bring to boil to melt all. Remove from fire. Add 1 cup (same as 1/2 lb) real butter and stir occasionally until butter is melted. Mix in 4 cups flour. Refrigerate dough 4 hours to 2 weeks in plastic bag or covered container. When you want a few cookies, let a gob of dough sit at room temp for a while and work it with your hands like modeling clay then roll directly on ungreased cookie sheet, cut cookies, and remove extra dough (recycle for next pan). Bake 7 min @ 375*. WHY IS THIS RECIPE A GEM? 1) You can roll as thin as you like and even delicate details like reindeer antlers and piggy tails will come out nice. 2) You don't have to bake 8000 cookies all at once. 3) There is no flour mess on your floor. 4) The cookies are actually good---the thinner the better. Recipe won First Prize in a Chicago Tribune contest 15 years ago.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Querencia

                        "Even delicate details like reindeer antlers and piggy tails will come out nice"

                        So the cookies don't expand at all while baking? I always thought the problem with delicate cutters was not getting the dough out, but how the dough acts while baking, fattening up and mooshing out those nice fine details.

                        Please let me know if this is not the case with these! That's a cool idea BTW, to just roll them out onto the pan!

                      2. when using metal cutters, don't wash them. Just wipe clean with a clean towel. Tinned steel cutters will rust if they get wet. I suppose you could hand wash copper cutters, but not steel.

                        I store mine on a big metal kitchen ring--those hinged, two part rings that snap together. Keeps them coralled and neat.