A family sugar cookie–baking party always sounds fun in theory—sprinkles galore, cookie cutters in every shape imaginable, Justin Bieber’s Christmas album blasting in the background (just me?). But as you’re rolling out the dough, reality hits: It’s as hard as a rock, and that rolling pin that you’ve now brandished as a weapon is no match for your dough. As the icing on the cake (cookie?), the final result doesn’t even taste that good.
Let us introduce you to a trick that will revolutionize your holiday baking game: plasticizing.
There are no holiday miracles here, just a solid technique that Cook’s Illustrated’s Andrew Janjigian applied to his sugar cookie recipe. While most sugar cookie recipes call for creaming room-temperature butter with sugar, chilling the dough, and then forcibly rolling out the solidified dough, plasticizing allows you to make cold butter soft and malleable while still keeping it cool enough to roll out immediately.
While you’ll see croissant bakers plasticize butter by beating it with a rolling pin (or with special machines), we use a food processor to plasticize ours—the razor-sharp processor blades do all the work for you. Then you roll out the dough, chill it, cut it into shapes, and bake. A few other tricks along the way make these cookies taste—and look—better than any run-of-the-mill sugar cookies.
The America’s Test Kitchen Kids team adapted and kid-ified that recipe by scaling it down; making the instructions clearer for kids; and, of course, topping the cookies with multicolored glazes and sprinkles. You can find that recipe, along with 100+ recipes for baked goods both sweet and savory, in our New York Times best-selling cookbook, The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs. Get it for holiday cookie fun—and then use it for baking projects both big and small all year long.