Whether you're making Christmas trees with angled branches, or authentic replicas of your best friend's face, it can be maddening to make intricately cutout cookies keep their shape. You roll out the dough, press the cookie cutter down, slide the spatula underneath, maneuver it onto the sheet, pop it into the oven—and it morphs into something unrecognizable. Pansino has an easy fix, though: Once you get the dough onto the baking sheet, pop it in the freezer for 10 minutes, and then bake it. The cold dough and chilled sheet will help the cookies keep their form -- so your pal's nose will look exactly as it should.
You're Using Too Little Flour
Chocolate chip cookies are usually considered a hard-to-mess-up treat; yet, we've certainly had our share of cookies that seem to melt rather than bake once they hit the oven. Chilling the dough and sheet can help, says Pansino, but there's another trick that works especially well for drop cookies (i.e., ones where you place spoonfuls of dough on the sheet). If your first batch comes out looking like pancakes, stir a tablespoon, or so, of flour (for a more cake-y cookie) along with one-fourth of a teaspoon of baking soda (for cookies that puff up) into the dough.
If It Says Don't Grease, You Don't Grease
We hear all the time that baking is a science, which can certainly instill nervous, "I-better-follow-these-directions-to-a-T" feelings. But what if you do everything your cookbook advises, and your cookies still don't spread enough, remaining as little mounds? Pansino says you may just need a little grease -- even if the recipe said to use ungreased baking sheets (these guidelines are typical in recipes where the dough has a lot of fat, i.e., butter). Brush some shortening on the pan for your next batch, or coat it with nonstick spray, to facilitate spreading (it won't affect the taste). If you really want to get nerdy, do a test bake with your first batch; grease one half of the sheet and leave the other ungreased, then drop two balls of dough onto each side and see which one turns out the way you like.
You're Hoping To Speed Things Up In The Fridge
As we've noted, the freezer can be a huge help when baking. But after cookies are out of the oven and you've decorated them, you'll want to keep frosted ones away from cool temps. Pansino likes to use royal icing, which is usually made with egg whites and powdered sugar, to decorate her creations (check out the glasses on her adorable "smart cookies"). Yet putting this icing in the fridge, or freezer, to harden will actually cause it to melt, because of the high humidity. Instead, let anything decorated with royal icing sit for five to six hours at room temperature (which tends to be drier than the inside of your refrigerator) before serving. Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing generally keep for two weeks; store them in an airtight container at room temperature.
A Pie That Actually Turns Out Just Like The One In The Picture
There is nothing perfect-looking about this insanely good chocolate-peanut butter pie from <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/This-Cookbook-Recipes-Real-Life/dp/1616282142?tag=thehuffingtop-20" target="_blank">This Is a Cookbook: Recipes for Real Life</a></em> -- which is why we love it so much. The crust is just crushed graham crackers. The filling is peanut butter and cream cheese. The top: chocolate sauce and salted peanuts. You're welcome.
<strong>Get the recipe: <a href="http://www.oprah.com/food/Chocolate-Peanut-Butter-Pie-Recipe" target="_blank">Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie</a></strong>