Tracy Mattson of Cookie ... take a bite! has years of experience to help her avoid cookie disasters such as burned bottoms or shaped cookies that look like cow pies.
For those with less experience, Matson shared a few tips on getting the best results, whether you're baking for a cookie exchange party, for gifts or for your own family:
-- Buy fresh baking soda and baking powder. They are cheap and they make a big difference.
Holiday Cookie Ideas
-- Use good-quality organic butter, such as Clover or Straus Family Creamery. It has less water content and will give your cookies a richer flavor.
-- Use good-quality chocolate - Valrhona, Cacao Barry or Caillebaut — that is around 64 percent cacao. "I don't use milk chocolate," she said. "The dark chocolate is less sweet so that you can experience the other flavors."
-- If possible, use fresh vanilla beans scraped from a vanilla pod. If you want to add moisture, use vanilla extract.
-- Sift your dry ingredients together, so that you don't have to overmix your dough.
-- Mix the flavorings, such as lemon, ginger and cinnamon, into the butter. That will intensify the flavor. But remember, a little cinnamon goes a long way.
-- Make the dough a day ahead, unless it has peanut butter or egg whites in it. That will intensify the flavors.
-- Refrigerate the dough before and after you cut it into a shape, so the cookies hold their shape.