Ask The Chef
The following question came into The Food Channel:
How soon can I start baking Christmas cookies, and how do I store them between now and then? Thank you ever so much.
The sooner you start baking, the sooner you can start sampling! Now is the perfect time to start baking, although technically you could have started in late September if you have the freezer space. Let’s go through a few of the general guidelines:
- You can freeze homemade cookies without loss of flavor for about three months. If you aren’t going to use your freshly baked cookies within a few days, we say freeze them—although some chefs say you can keep many kinds of crisp cookies out at room temperature for two or three weeks as long as they are sealed in an airtight container.
- Some cooks recommend adding an apple slice to the storage container to keep soft cookies moist and soft, and a slice of bread to the container to make cookies soft again (similar to softening brown sugar). We have never found the need for either, I’m afraid, since cookies tend to not hang around too long.
- To freeze cookies, make sure your cookies have thoroughly cooled to room temperature before packaging them. Then, layer them in a freezer safe container, putting sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper in between the layers to prevent sticking. You don’t want to have to pull your pretty cookies apart and leave a mark on the bottom cookies! You’ll want to fill the container, so choose containers appropriate in size for the cookies you’ll bake (but don’t be tempted to mix kinds of cookies).
- Seal it tightly, then label it with the type of cookie and the date baked. Don’t rely on your memory—even if you aren’t doing a lot of baking, it’s surprising how easy it is to forget when you made that batch. Freezing is the best way we’ve found to keep your cookies fresh when you want to make them ahead of time. Then just pull them out of the freezer a few hours before needed and serve.
- You can refreeze cookies, too, but keep in mind that any icing will begin to degrade if you do this over and over.
- Invest in a good, airtight container—this is not the time to use tins or anything that does not have a seal. We’ve even known people who wrap their airtight containers in plastic wrap before putting in the freezer, and there’s nothing wrong with that precaution if you are using an older container.
- Just as freezing is good, refrigerating is bad, except for cookies with a cream or custard filling. Those, definitely refrigerate as soon as they are cool. All other cookies should be stored at room temperature or frozen. Keep in mind that cookies with nuts should not be stored more than a few days on the counter, as nuts can easily turn rancid.
- If you take crisp cookies out of the freezer and find they’ve gotten soft, you can crisp them up by baking at a low temperature (300 degrees) for up to 5 minutes, then cool as though fresh baked.
- If you are going to eat the cookies one or two at a time, rather than serve them to a group, consider wrapping each cookie individually before freezing. Just wrap in plastic wrap then put in your freezer safe, airtight container. You can also use a plastic zip-type bag, particularly if it’s made for freezer use.
- As for storing dough, we recommend that you can make it and store the batter 2-3 days in the refrigerator, tightly covered. You can also freeze most drop and roll cookie batters for a few weeks.
That should be enough to get you started, but let us know if you have other questions. Some Christmas cookies taste really good right out of the freezer, too—so don’t be afraid to start baking right away and keep a few treats on hand for the holiday season.
For more of our Ask the Chef series, just click and enjoy.
By the way, our Culinary Center group is just finishing up our 12 Days of Christmas Cookies series for 2017 and we think you’ll find it’s a lot of fun—so stay tuned. You can also check out past years at these links:
Happy Holidays from The Food Channel!