This time of year we've all got cookies on the mind. Whether you're headed to a cookie swap, filling up tins to give as gifts, or hosting a holiday party, there's nothing worse than realizing that you are the least knowledgeable in a room full of cookie-lovers.* To help you avoid those all-too-common awkward situations where you accidentally insult Aunt Petunia by referring to her Snickerdoodles as a cut-out cookie when clearly it's a drop sugar cookie, we've compiled this guide to all of the most common forms of cookies. Maybe it will offer a little baking inspiration, too.
*ok, coming to that realization while simultaneously coming to the realization that you forgot to wear pants AGAIN would be worse.
Dough-Based Piped Cookies
These cookies are made either by piping a dough out of a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip, or by pressing the dough out of a dedicated cookie press into fancy shapes. Because of the specialized equipment and techniques required to make them, piped cookies are not generally the realm of amateurs, but with a little practice and investment, you can turn out cookies that look like they've come straight from the pâtisserie.
Refrigerator (Icebox) Cookies
Here, the cookie dough is shaped, usually into a log, and then chilled. When firm, the log is sliced and then baked. These are the perfect make-ahead doughs, because the log of dough can be frozen nearly indefinitely, allowing you to slice off as few or as many cookies as you'd like, saving the rest of the dough for later use.
Cookies made out of a stiff dough that's molded into a shape by hand before baking. They often appear around holidays and have a shortbread-like consistency.
In this category, dough is chilled and then rolled and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. These rolled cookies are generally heavily decorated for the holidays. Think: gingerbread men.
- Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
- Homemade Keebler Fudge Stripe Cookies
- Homemade Nutter Butters
- Green Tea Cookies
Sugar cookies are cookies that are rolled in sugar (either plain, brown sugar, or sugar mixed with aromatic spices and other ingredients) before baking. The sugar forms a crunchy coating and the surface of sugar cookies often comes out with a "cracked" appearance. The base for sugar cookies can be a drop-style dough, a shaped dough, or a cut-out dough.
Made with whipped egg whites whipped to stiff peaks as the base and often mixed with other flavorings such as flavored extracts, or nut-based flours (such as almonds for classic French Macarons), these cookies tend to be light with a thin, crisp exterior and soft, mildly chewy center.
Filled cookies made from a simple shortbread-style buttery dough in which a thumbprint is made in the center in which to add a flavored filling like jam, chocolate, dried or fresh fruit, or nuts.
These cookies are made by rolling out a large, thin sheet of dough, topping it with a filling such as dried fruits or nuts, then rolling it up into a log, slicing it, and baking it, resulting in flaky, spiral-shaped cookies layered with pastry and filling. Rugelach is a classic example.
You probably could have figured this one out, but sandwich cookies are cookies in which a fruit, chocolate, nut, cream, or other filling is sandwiched between two cookies. They can range from mass-marketed Oreos all the way to French Macarons, one of the most notoriously difficult cookies to make. These can be a bit labor intensive to make, but the contrast between buttery cookie and moist fruit, chocolate, or nutty filling is worth the effort.
For these cookies, the dough or batter is spread into a pan, often layered with other flavors, baked, and then cut into bars or squares. With the exception of rainbow cookies, bar cookies are perhaps the simplest of all the cookies to bake since they require little to no portioning or shaping. Once the pan is prepped with a dough or crust and filling, it bakes in one shot—no babysitting the oven in 15 minute increments or juggling of hot cookie pans. And best of all, since you fill up the entire baking sheet, the volume of cookies you produce per pan is maximized. This makes them a great option for feeding a crowd.
These cookies are thin, delicate, and crunchy. The batter is either dropped onto the pan, spread into round discs, or spread onto the pan with a stencil. As it bakes, the batter spreads out flat. After the cookie is baked, and while it's still warm, it remains malleable enough to be shaped or rolled into tubes. These cookies can take some skill to master until you get the hang of it. Extremely susceptible to humidity, they must be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry, place.
Lace Cookies and Other Candy-Cookie Hybrids
Like tuiles, these are cookies baked with a batter that spreads out very thin as it bakes. With lace cookies, however, this is taken to the extreme as they are spread so thin that holes will start peeping through them, creating a buttery, crisp crunch that is almost candy-like in texture. Lace-style cookies can also be made with a candy-like base that's first cooked on the stovetop. The resulting cookies are extra crisp, like a cross between a cookie and toffee. Florentines and old fashioned versions of lace cookies fall under this category.
Ah, the name says it all. A mixture of a few ingredients that form tasty cohesive masses that we feel inclined to describe as cookies. Ideal for rolling up when your oven's overbooked or on the fritz.
Biscotti are in a category all their own because of the unique way in which they're baked. The word biscotti means "twice cooked". Dough is formed into loaf shaped logs and baked. After a slight cooling, the loaves are sliced, then returned to a pan and baked again. The result is a super crunchy cookie that begs to be dipped in espresso. Biscotti come in endless flavors, and are the hardiest of the bunch, with staying power that lasts well past that final piece of Aunt Gertie's fruitcake.
These cut-out cookies are made with notches that allow them to be attached and arranged into three dimensional shapes after baking like building blocks. They often come in kits in holiday-themed shapes like trees for Christmas, witch's hats for Halloween, or Hello Kitty for...Hello Kitty Day.
These cookies are baked in cast-iron molds over an open flame rather than on a baking sheet. Often waffle-shaped, these are made by cooking both sides simultaneously, resulting in a very thin, very crisp crumb. Italian Pizzelle are the classic example, though even Belgian Waffles made with a dough technically fall under this category. Waffled Ice Cream Cones are a sort of hybrid between an iron-baked cookie and a tuile.
These flourless or low-flour cookies rely on nuts as a primary ingredient. Because the lack of flour leads to limited gluten development, they often have a crumbly, sandy texture.
Cookies baked inside cookies. Generally the cooke in the center is a packaged cookie of some sort, like a Girl Scout cookie or an Oreo, while the outer cookie is made with drop-cookie dough.
Here, cookie dough is pressed into a pie pan with or without a pastry crust and baked like a pie. Generally you'll only see this done with chocolate chip cookie dough, but many variations are possible.