How to Make 5 Different Cookies from a Basic Dough

Our Test Kitchen's favorite basic cookie dough recipe can be doctored-up in five different ways. Check out our favorite variations—all must-haves for the holidays.

No doubt about it: The holiday season can be pretty hectic. Between the parties, shopping and taking a little time to enjoy traditions (Christmas movies, anyone?), there isn’t always time to make every single cookie on your wishlist. But if you plan wisely and prep a great basic cookie dough, you can get it all done—and still have time to watch Home Alone.

To get our baking done in a jiff, we rely on this basic cookie dough recipe. It makes a giant batch of dough and can be used to make five kinds of cookies. Talk about bang for your buck! And perhaps the best part—this dough does great in the freezer, so you can prep it now and defrost as the holidays near. But enough chatting, let’s walk through the recipe.

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How to Make Our Test Kitchen’s Favorite Basic Cookie Dough

This basic cookie dough recipe is a go-to in our Test Kitchen because it’s so versatile. From this one simple dough (which is a breeze to stir up), you can make five different cookies. Here’s what you’ll need for the basic dough:

  • 2-1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 7-1/2 to 8 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Stirring Up a Simple Cookie Dough

Making the cookie dough is an absolute breeze. Start by creaming together the butter and sugar until it gets nice and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs, milk and vanilla. Be sure to use real vanilla extract in this recipe. Because the cookie dough is so simple, that vanilla flavor will really pop, so make sure it’s the best vanilla you can afford.

Editor’s tip: Make sure not to make this mistake when buying vanilla at the store.

Finally, add in the flour. Start by adding about seven cups and add more flour as needed. The dough shouldn’t be overly sticky, so don’t hesitate to add a little extra until you get to that full eight cups.

Portioning and Freezing Cookie Dough

This recipe makes a lot of cookie dough, so chances are you won’t be baking it all off in advance. That’s just fine because this cookie dough is easy to prep and store. Our Test Kitchen recommends dividing into two-cup portions and refrigerating or freezing. You can keep it in the fridge for a day or two, but pop in the freezer for long-term storage. It’ll keep for up to a year. When you’re ready to bake, just let it thaw a bit before working with it.

Variation 1: Jelly Sandwich Cookies

Taste of Home

To make these jelly-filled cookies, break out two cups of basic cookie dough. Then roll out the dough onto a floured surface—about an eighth-inch thick is just right. Cut out rounds with a cookie cutter (and if you don’t have a circular cutter, just use a glass). Next, cut out the center of half of your cookie dough circles with a small cookie cutter. We used a star here, but use any shape you like.

The next step is filling the cookies. Use any jam or jelly you like; this is a great opportunity to break out your favorite homemade jam. Place a teaspoon of jam on the base layer of each cookie. Then layer over the cutout cookie round on top. Seal the edges with a fork.

Editor tip: If you’re having trouble sealing the cookies, we the edge of the cookie dough and then layer on the top cookie dough round and crimp shut. The water will help the two layers stick.

All that’s left to do is bake the cookies. 10 to 12 minutes in a 375ºF oven will do it. Once baked, remove them from your cookie sheet and let them cool on a wire rack.

Variation 2: Cherry Surprise Cookies

Taste of Home

These cherry cookies are indeed hiding a surprise—the best kind of surprise: chocolate! And for something unsurprising: They’re super easy to make.

Start with heaping tablespoons of cookie dough. Wrap each portion around a chocolate star candy or a chocolate kiss (this is the perfect way to use up any kisses with broken peaks). Once wrapped, top each cookie with a candied cherry half. Pop them in a 375ºF oven for 10 to 12 minutes and you’ve got some sweet surprise cookies ready to go.

Variation 3: Crumb-Topped Date Bars

Taste of Home

Okay, you got us: These crumb-topped date bars aren’t cookies exactly, but they do use our favorite cookie dough as a base. They also are a welcome accompaniment on any cookie tray. You’ll need:

  • 2 cups basic cookie dough
  • 1 package (8 ounces) chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Start with the date filling. In a saucepan, bring the dates, sugar, water and lemon juice to a boil. Then reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer, uncovered, for five minutes. Give it a stir every now and then. When it’s reduced, remove it from the heat and let it cool.

Next, press one cup of the cookie dough into the bottom of a nine-inch square baking pan. Spread the date jam over the top. Then crumble the remaining cookie dough over the filling to form a top crust. No need to be perfect with this part. Once the bars are cut, they’ll look great no matter what.

To bake, pop in a 375ºF oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and slice.

Here are 20 more cookie bar ideas that make life tastier.

Variation 4: Chocolate Mallow Cookies

Taste of Home

If you’re looking to take our basic cookie dough recipe to the next level, these chocolate mallow cookies are for you. You’ll need some extra ingredients here:

  • 2 cups basic cookie dough
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 20 large marshmallows halved
  • 1 can chocolate frosting

To make these, start by adding two cups of the basic cookie dough to a mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, cocoa, egg, milk and chopped pecans.

Editor tip: Get more flavor in these cookies by toasting your pecans before stirring into the cookie dough. Learn how to toast nuts the easy way.

Drop tablespoons of the chocolaty dough onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 375ºF for eight minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and press a halved marshmallow on top of each cookie. Pop these back in the oven for another two minutes or until the marshmallow puffs up. Stay close to the oven for this last step. Just like with a campfire, marshmallows can go from perfect to burned faster than you think. Once baked, let these cookies cool completely on a wire rack.

The final step is to give these cookies a dab of frosting. To keep it simple, grab your favorite can of chocolate frosting (here’s ours). Add the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a star tip and pipe a dollop of frosting onto each cookie. You can stop right there or add a few sprinkles on top if you want to be extra festive.

Editor tip: If canned frosting isn’t for you, that’s just fine. Feel free to replace it with chocolate buttercream or even a rich, chocolate ganache.

Variation 5: Cutout Cookies

Taste of Home

The last variation of this cookie dough is the simplest. You don’t need to modify the basic cookie dough at all.

Instead, roll out the chilled cookie dough until it’s about an eighth of an inch thick and cut out using your favorite cookie cutters. Here are some of our favorite holiday cutters and a few tips on how to repurpose the shapes you already have in your kitchen. Bake these at 375ºF for 10 to 12 minutes.

Once they’re cooled, you can frost however you like. If you’re tight on time, feel free to use canned frosting. If you’re looking for a more professional finish, try your hands at these royal icing techniques.

Taste of Home

This simple cookie dough is the perfect way to kick off your holiday baking. We love it because it’s a great recipe for making in advance and stashing in the freezer (these cookie recipes also work). And with minimal effort, you can transform this dough into five very different cookies. No one would know this gorgeous platter of cookies all started with one basic mix. Want to try even more cookies? Our easy cookie recipes will broaden your recipe repertoire!

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.