Oh, store-bought sugar cookie dough, where have you been my whole life? • While I've been creaming butter and sugar and carefully measuring then mixing in the dry ingredients, you've been in the refrigerator case all the time. But using you, I thought, was cheating. Slice and bake? Not me. I am a scratch cook. I am better than that. • Well, I've toned back the snob dial enough to learn a few things about refrigerated cookie dough. It's easy to use, tastes pretty good and, most importantly, it can be used as a base for many different cookies. • And there's more. Doctoring cookie dough doesn't mess up the kitchen nearly as much as mixing it from scratch. Bake a dozen cookies today; pop the dough back in the fridge and make another dozen later in the week. Or split the tube of dough in half and flavor each differently. Imagine, M&M's cookies for the kids and savory rosemary for you. • Plus, transforming sugar cookie dough is a great project for children. It's easy enough and so safe that even the smallest cook can join in. • Speaking of kids, let them help you make a batch or two for end-of-the-year teacher gifts. It has been a rough year for teachers and I am not saying that a batch of cookies will make up for budget cuts and layoffs, but it can't hurt. A plate of cookies is a sweet way to show your appreciation. • Here's what you need to know to turn humble refrigerated sugar cookie dough into a treat that might just fool the pickiest cookie exchange crowd:
• Let the dough stand for 10 to 15 minutes, then break it up and place it in a plastic bag or a bowl. It's easiest to mix add-ins into the dough by hand. Wash hands thoroughly first.
• Do not add too much of any wet ingredient. About 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid for an entire tube of dough is the limit, and only if you've added dry ingredients, too, such as cocoa powder or finely chopped nuts.
• Adding chopped nuts stiffens the dough and makes it easier to form. If the dough gets too soft, add a tablespoon or two of flour and mix in well.
• Cookies made from refrigerated dough can be frozen. Let cool completely and then store in an airtight container.
• Experiment with other doughs, such as peanut butter and chocolate chip. The same techniques apply.
• A standard tube will yield about 30 2-inch cookies. Directions here are for the entire tube but you can easily halve the dough and the ingredients, or add more or less according to your tastes.
The following 25 simple ideas will help you take plain sugar cookie dough, which isn't bad by itself, and turn it into cookies worthy of your favorite teacher. Or just me. And that's saying a lot. You know how I am.
Mix ingredients well with 1 tube of refrigerated sugar cookie dough. Roll 1 tablespoon of dough into ball; place balls about 2 inches apart on cooking sheets lined with parchment paper. This will result in a flat, 2-inch cookie. Bake for about 12 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. Cool on wire racks.
Zest of one large orange, 1 teaspoon orange extract and 2/3 cup dried cranberries.
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1 ½ teaspoons rum flavoring, ½ cup finely chopped toasted walnuts. Roll in confectioners' sugar after shaping and before baking.
CHOCOLATE-DIPPED PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH
Make 2-inch sugar cookies and let cool. For filling, mix ¾ cup peanut butter with ¼ cup confectioners' sugar. Spread flat side of half the cookies with 1 rounded teaspoon; top with remaining cookies to form a sandwich. Refrigerate until firm. Meanwhile, melt 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips with 4 teaspoons of vegetable oil. Dip cookies halfway into chocolate; let excess drain off. Place cookies on waxed paper-lined cookie sheets and refrigerate to set.
WHITE CHOCOLATE MACADAMIA MACAROONS
½ cup toasted shredded coconut, 2/3 cup white chocolate chips and 1/3 cup chopped macadamia nuts.
2/3 cup dried cherries and 2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips.
1 teaspoon ground ginger and ¼ teaspoon cloves. Roll balls in sugar mixed with cinnamon before baking.
MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips and 1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract.
CASHEW STRAWBERRY THUMBPRINTS
Add 2/3 cup chopped cashews and form balls. Place on cookie sheet and make small indentation with pinky that has been dipped in flour. Fill with heaping ¼ teaspoon of seedless jelly. (Do not overfill or jelly will spread too much as cookies bake.)
FROSTED MAPLE WALNUT
2/3 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts and 1 ½ teaspoons maple flavoring. After cookies have cooled, ice with store-bought vanilla frosting that has been mixed with maple syrup. Sprinkle with more chopped nuts if you'd like.
CHIPS OFF THE BLOCK
2/3 cup each peanut butter chips and chocolate chips.
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves. Really, delicious.
2 tablespoons lime zest, 1 teaspoon lime extract and ½ cup chopped macadamia nuts.
MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP
2/3 cup chocolate chips and 1 ½ teaspoons peppermint extract.
CINNAMON RAISIN OATMEAL
2/3 cup raisins, 1/3 cup instant oats and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon.
2/3 cup toffee bits and 1 to 2 teaspoons espresso powder.
SUGARED PECAN ORANGE
2/3 cup chopped toasted pecans and zest of 1 orange. Roll in sugar before baking.
Roll balls in multicolored sprinkles before baking.
½ cup chopped salted pistachios and 2/3 cup dried cherries.
½ cup chopped toasted pine nuts and 1 teaspoon almond extract.
2/3 cup dried blueberries and zest of 2 lemons.
HONEY-ROASTED PEANUT CRISPS
2/3 cup chopped honey-roasted peanuts.
Mix zest of 1 lemon with dough and roll into balls. Place on cookie sheet; make small indentation with pinky. Fill with heaping ¼ teaspoon of lemon curd. (Do not overfill or lemon curd will spread too much as cookies bake.)
After dough is rolled into ball, push an unwrapped Hershey's Kiss candy into the center before baking.
M&M'S AND PEANUT
2/3 cup coarsely chopped peanuts and 2/3 cup plain or peanut butter M&M's.
1 teaspoon cardamom, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon cloves, ¼ teaspoon of white pepper and 1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream. Roll in sugar before baking.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.