At this very moment, seasonal bakers around the world are bookmarking cookie recipes, tracking down special ingredients, and panicking when they realise they forgot to leave the butter out to soften. Welcome to cookie swap season.
Alison Roman's salted butter chocolate chunk shortbread cookies are everywhere. Bon Appétit, Eater, Nylon, Smitten Kitchen and The New York Times have covered them in glowing detail; The Cookies pop up on my Instagram discover feed literally every day. The best recipes are more than the sum of their parts, but the sheer volume of breathless, googly-eyed reviews suggest that a concerning number of people have lived deprived, salted-butter-cookie-less lives until now.
I mostly hate all the waiting — for the butter to soften, for the dough to chill overnight, for the dough to warm up enough to be scooped or rolled or what have you. Surprisingly, when it comes to cookies, skipping the softening step altogether is more than a shortcut; it actually makes everything a lot easier.
Starting with rock-hard butter probably violates every last baker’s instinct you’ve got, but I promise it’s the way to go. If you’re using a stand mixer, chunk up your cold butter, toss it into the bowl with your sugar, and bash with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until it starts to smear the sides.
Proceed with the recipe. A food processor makes things even easier, though: chuck cubed butter in with the rest of the ingredients in and pulse until the dough starts to ball up—no creaming required. I learned this from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen and have been preaching the cold butter cookie gospel ever since.
It’s a life-changing technique; I willingly made cookies for Christmas last year, and they were divine.
Cold butter doesn’t just speed things up. It also results in a dough that’s warm enough to immediately roll out or scoop, but not so warm that it melts as soon as you touch it. Whether you’re making sugar cookies in festive shapes or slice-and-bake sablés, you can freeze the rolled-out dough indefinitely for on-demand cookies.
If you’re still unsure about trying this with your favourite recipe, I say do it anyways—Deb says cold butter hasn’t failed her yet, and I’m inclined to trust her.