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The Best Way to Roll Out Cookie Dough

I've shown here on the blog the few ways to roll out sugar cookie doughs, and for years I have always been pleased with my tried & true method, but if I'm going to be honest, I've changed my technique and will never go back. Long gone are the days when I used to flour my rolling surface, rolling pin and the top of a disk of cookie dough.  Now that I've become more busy in my daily life, I want to make less of a production whenever I have to roll out cookie doughs, and not make too much of a mess in the kitchen. Quick, easy, and totally effortless, rolling out sugar cookie doughs and those with a similar texture, can become a task that only takes a few minutes, rather than a couple of hours waiting for the dough to sit and chill, then getting it rolled out from the refrigerator.

With a few pieces of parchment paper, some dowels and a sturdy rolling pin, I begin to roll out my doughs as soon as they come off the mixer.  It's as easy as 1-2-3.

A couple of years ago I came across a video segment by cookbook author, Nancy Baggett, in which she showed how easy and effortlessly she rolled out her cookie doughs, and for me, it was a moment of sudden revelation when I saw her method.  Nancy is one of those consummate bakers who knows her subject through and through, and to my mind, she is a national treasure when it comes to cookie baking.

Although I can't claim this as my own method, since all the credit goes to Nancy, I will show you how it's done, because it is the technique you should be using in your own kitchen whenever you feel like cutting out shapely cookies using your cookie cutters.  Trust me, you will find it to be your preferred way to roll out cookie doughs throughout the year, and if you're a busy baker like I am, that means doing it quite often.  

Let's get started!

Sugar Cookies ready for some royal icing.

Tools for Rolling Out Cookie Dough & Cutting Out Shapes
  • Sugar Cookie Dough
  • Parchment Paper
  • Dowels in 1/4", 3/8" and/or 1/2" in thickness
  • Metal Spatulas
  • Pastry Brush
  • Baking Sheets/ Half Sheets
Note: the thicker the cookie, the sturdier it will be for decorating, packaging and mailing.  I find a 3/8" dowel to produce the best thickness for iced sugar cookies.  

Most sugar cookies contain the basics of butter, sugar, flour, vanilla and an egg or two.  Any combination of these will produce slightly different-textured cookies, depending on the recipe.  Whether you like your cookies to be sandy and tender, like Scottish shortbread or crisp and crunchy, like the sugar cookies that we bake during the holidays, you can begin to roll out your cookie doughs as soon as they're made.

Working with cut out pieces of parchment paper, I divide my dough in half when it comes off the stand mixer.  Working with one half of the dough, pat it into an oblong rectangle.  Have your dowels and rolling pin handy.

Place another piece of parchment paper over the dough and begin to roll it out between the dowels, using them as guides for the rolling pin.  You will see how quickly the dough rolls out evenly in between the parchment paper. 

The parchment may crease and wedge itself between the dough as you're doing this.  Stop rolling out the cookie dough, and gently lift the top piece of parchment paper to smooth it out.  Continue rolling until the entire slab of dough is even and of the same thickness as the dowels.  As soon as you don't feel any resistance, and the edges of the rolling pin are gliding on the dowels unimpeded,  you know you've rolled out the dough evenly.

Proceed with the other half of the cookie dough and fresh pieces of parchment paper.

If you notice any creases or breaks in the dough when you lift the parchment paper, gently roll them smooth with the rolling pin.

If I'm in a hurry or if I don't feel like cutting out a top piece of parchment paper, I will use plastic wrap for rolling out the dough (see gingerbread cookie dough above).

Chilling Cookie Dough
  • Depending on the recipe, every rolled out slab of cookie dough should be chilled before proceeding with cutting out shapes. Gently side and pile onto the back of a rimmed baking sheet as many slabs of cookie dough you have rolled out.
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour of chilling will suffice for my recipes here on the blog, but other recipes which contain more sugar may require a couple of hours to firm up. 
  • Hint:  to speed up the process, pop the rolled out cookie doughs into the freezer for 30 minutes, then proceed to cut out the cookies.
Using a small dish of flour, dip your cookie cutters before cutting out shapes.  I always cut out my cookies as close together as possible in order to minimize rolling out scraps, but even so, rolling out scraps up to two times will still give good results.  If any flour sticks to the cut out shapes, brush it off with a clean pastry brush.

Remember to use wide metal spatulas (such as brownie spatulas) to move the cut out shapes onto lined baking sheets.  The cookies can now be baked in a preheated oven, per your recipe.

For those of you who cut out large cookies (those with 6"-9" dimensions), like this adorable squirrel from Martha by Mail, it's very important to cut out cookies from chilled cookie dough and then give them another quick 30 minute chill while the oven is preheating.  
  • I cut out the large cookies of at least 3/8" thickness, and remove the excess dough from around the shapes, leaving the cookie cut outs on the parchment paper.  
  • These are then moved back into the refrigerator on rimmed baking sheets to firm up thoroughly.  
  • Once the large shapes are quite firm, I then proceed to gently move them onto prepared baking sheets with two large spatulas (such as pancake turners).
  • Bake according to the recipe.

Upon close inspection, you can see that every single baked sugar cookie in the photo above is straight and even.  These types of cookies are the best to decorate with royal icing, because outlining and flooding cookies creates a flawless, smooth finish when everything is flat & even.

Sugar and Spice Cookies

With the holidays approaching, many of us are going to be baking dozens of cookies for friends, family and perhaps clients who want to partake of our tasty and beautiful creations.  Not exactly assembly-line style, rolling out cookie dough between pieces of parchment with dowels as guides, is the fastest way to get cookies cut out and baked in a home kitchen.  Believe me, as much as I love to bake and decorate cookies all year long, the less time I spend in my kitchen, the better.  I hope all of you cookie bakers out there begin to roll out your cookie doughs this way, if you don't already, and profit from this easy and simple technique.  Thank you, Nancy Baggett!

Happy Baking,



  1. David, I LOVE this guidance. I have to admit, although I love to bake I hated pounding on the chilled dough to get it workable for rolling out. A couple of questions: 1) Have you ever used the lamination method that Dan at Americas Test Kitchen uses? I've used it once with Sugar Cookies with great results. However, the method you've outline above is simple and easy. 2) Have you ever used PureCane sugar substitute in your baking? Thanks again for the information.

    1. David, I have to admit I’ve never heard of the lamination method! Gasp!

      You know, over the years of my having made this recipe countless times and having baked thousands of cookies, my sugar cookie recipe really doesn’t need to rest or be chilled. If I’m in a rush I start rolling it out as soon as it comes off the mixer. I get the same results!!

  2. Sorry, the Americas Test Kitchen method is is plactisizing the butter/dough...not lamination.


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