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Simply put, rolled cookies, such as sugar cookies, are made by using a rolling pin to flatten a stiff dough, which is then cut into interesting shapes with sharp cookie cutters, a knife, or a pastry wheel. The alternative is to shape the dough into logs and to slice it thinly before baking, called icebox cookies. Rolled cookies are more crumbly and less chewy than drop ones.
Rolled cookies should be thin and crisp, so generally, the dough should be rolled in a 1/8-inch-thick circle in a cool room so the dough does not get soft. The rule is the thinner they are, they are more crispy and fragile. But if you want them on the chewy side, roll them thicker and underbake them just a little bit, removing them from the oven while the center is still a little soft.
Before rolling and cutting, the dough should be well chilled for at least 30 minutes to an hour. This will prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and shrinking when rolled. Use only as much of the chilled dough as can be handled at one time and keep the remainder cold.
Lightly flour the work surface before rolling; for the tenderest cookies, use as little as possible. Some recommend rolling by using confectioner's sugar because it won't toughen the cookies like flour will. If the dough becomes too soft to roll put it in the refrigerator to chill. A nonstick Silpat mat is a great surface on which to roll cookie dough on. It can be put directly in the fridge, with the dough on it, if the dough starts getting too soft
SARAH SAYS: If you still have problems rolling out the dough, which is the case of soft dough made with a lot of eggs, milk and/or sugar, do so between two sheets of parchment or plastic wrap or two Silpat mats. To use rolled dough afterwards, simply remove one dough circle at a time, peel off the top sheet of wax paper, replace it loosely with a fresh one, then flip the entire package over. Peel off and discard the second sheet of wax paper and cut into shapes as desired.
Once rolled, "green" or "bucky" (young) dough will tend to shrink back after rolling. If you're not manually shrinking your dough after rolling (on a well-dusted countertop) you should be. Grab a long edge of the rolled dough and gently "flip" the edge up, trapping a bit of an air cushion under it. Work the air out from under by gently pushing on the top of the dough, toward a center point and the shrink should disappear. Refrigerating the dough also helps. Fold the dough into a half or fourths and cover with plastic wrap. Be careful not to squish the dough while doing, so it won't crack. Keep it there for a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour and no longer than 24.
QUESTION: What are the differences between plastic, metal & copper cutters and what makes one type better than another?
SARAH SAYS: Metal (tin) and copper make a sturdier cutter and can be used to cut through a variety of dough. Plastic cutters are fine, but they will not always cut through deep or harder treats because they aren't as sharp.
Start cutting on the outside edges of the rolled dough, keeping the cuts close together and work your way in towards the center to get the most out of the dough. That's because it's easier to remove cut out cookie dough from the edge rather than the center without marring the rolled dough.
Save all the dough trimmings to roll out and to cut again, the second ones being less tender than the first; handling the dough over and over again with more flour, toughens the cookies.
Rolled out cookie dough can be stored as is, tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. If frozen, it keeps for 1 month or more. The cookie dough can also be rolled in between two sheets or parchment or waxed paper and refrigerated or frozen for the same amount of time. With rolled cookies, I like to store already cut out cookie dough; the advantage being you can bake cookies whenever you want to without a lot of fuss. Simply, place them on a flat cookie sheet in the freezer and when hard, remove to airtight bags for long term storage. No need to thaw the cookie dough before baking (unless you wish to decorate it).
SARAH SAYS: You can "glue" one rolled out cookie dough shape onto another before baking. For instance, if you want to place a small heart cut-out on a gingerbread man (woman): Cut out both shapes, and where the heart is supposed to be, put a little dab of water with your fingertip. Then, gently press the heart into place. The water will act as the "glue". Chill the dough if it is too soft to handle easily.
QUESTION: Sometimes my cookies get distorted when I transfer them to a cookie sheet. Is there a way to avoid this?
SARAH SAYS: To prevent very large cut cookies from losing their shape, roll dough directly onto cookie sheet. Cut cookies and remove excess dough.