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Cookie Magic: Five-in-One Dough

Basic Cookie Dough
With this one simple recipe, you can create five tempting treats. It's not only versatile -- it's child-friendly. It comes together quickly and stands up to a lot of handling. Turn it into cut, rolled and decorated cookies. You can double or triple this recipe and freeze a batch or two for later.

Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Baking Time: About 10 Minutes
Yield: 36 Cookies

Ingredients:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
Nonstick cooking spray

1. In a large bowl, beat butter with electric mixer for 1 minute. Gradually add sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla extract.
2. Measure flour into large sifter set over dinner plate. Add baking soda and salt. Sift flour mixture into egg-butter mixture; beat on medium speed until smooth. If dough is sticky, beat in a few more tablespoons of flour.
3. Remove dough from bowl, form into 3 balls, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. (Dough may also be frozen.)
4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Set the dough on work surface for 5 to 10 minute or until pliable, or knead it 4 to 5 times to soften. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
5. Roll out dough to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out cookies with a table knife or 3-inch cookie cutter. Reroll the scraps and cut out more cookies.
6. Place cookies on the prepared baking sheet 1 inch apart; bake for 10 minutes or until bottoms start to brown and tops are firm. Remove with a spatula to a wire rack. Let cool about 15 minutes.

How Kids Can Help:
Unwrap butter and place in bowl
Form dough into balls
Roll dough
Cut out cookies 

Candy Canes
For an even more colorful version, add green food coloring to half the dough and red to the other half, and twist to create green-and-red candy canes.

Prep Time:10 Minutes
Baking Time: About 10 Minutes
Yield: 12 Cookies

Ingredients:
½ batch Basic Cookie Dough
Nonstick cooking spray
10 drops red food coloring

1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator (or freezer) and knead it 4 or 5 times on work surface to soften. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Divide the dough in half. Add red food coloring to 1 portion and mix well; adjust the amount depending upon how dark you want the red to be.
3. Break off small pieces of red dough and roll into 5-inch lengths, about as thick as a pencil. Repeat with untinted dough. (If it's too sticky, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.) Starting at 1 end, twist a strand of red dough around a strand of untinted dough, continuing to twist until you reach the end. Pinch ends together and bend the twisted strands into a cane shape.
4. Carefully place on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until bottoms start to brown. Remove with a spatula to a wire rack. Let cool about 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers.

How Kids Can Help:
Roll dough into strands
Twist together
Bend into candy canes

Candy Canes
Thread ribbons through the holes; hang on your Christmas tree -- they'll last as long as your tree does.

Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Baking Time: About 10 Minutes
Yield: 12 Cookies

Ingredients:
1/3 batch Basic Cookie Dough
Nonstick cooking spray
Flour for dusting work surface
1/3 batch Vanilla Icing
10 drops red, green, or blue food coloring
Rainbow or chocolate sprinkles, chocolate chips, Red Hots, or similar candies

1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator (or freezer) and knead it 4 or 5 times on work surface to soften. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Lightly sprinkle work surface with flour.
2. Roll out dough to ¼ inch thick. Cut out cookies with a 3-inch cookie cutter. Use skewer to make a ¼-inch hole near top. Reroll scraps; cut out more cookies.
3. Place cookies on baking sheet 1 inch apart; bake 10 minutes or until bottoms start to brown and tops are firm. Remove to a wire rack. Let cool about 15 minutes.
4. Tint icing with food coloring (10 drops will lend a rich color); frost cookies. Top with sprinkles, chips, or candies, and let icing dry. Hang on tree or store in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers.

How Kids Can Help:
Sprinkle flour on work surface
Roll, cut out cookies
Decorate cookies

Candy Canes
For extra holiday spirit, tint the vanilla icing red or green.

Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Baking Time: About 10 Minutes
Yield: 12 Cookies

Ingredients:
Nonstick cooking spray
½ batch Basic Cookie Dough
Flour for dusting rolling pin
½ batch Vanilla Icing, or 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Remove dough from refrigerator (or freezer); knead it 4 or 5 times on work surface to soften. Roll to 1/2 inch thick with a lightly floured rolling pin. Cut out cookies with a 3-inch round cookie cutter. Place about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.
2. Bake 10 minutes or until bottoms start to brown and tops are firm. Remove with a spatula to a wire rack to cool completely (at least 15 minutes); spread the icing or peanut butter on half the cookies; then assemble sandwiches.
3. Place the chocolate chips in a shallow, microwaveable bowl. Heat on high 1 minute; stir. Heat 1½ to 2 minutes more, stirring every 30 seconds, until chips are melted. Dip the cookies in melted chocolate, swirling to cover 1 end. Cool on waxed paper, about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers.

How Kids Can Help:
Roll and cut out cookies
Ice and assemble the sandwiches

Toffee Jumbles
You can substitute a Snickers or a similar candy bar, but be sure to chop it finely before adding to the dough.

Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Baking Time: About 8 Minutes
Yield: 18 Cookies

Ingredients:
½ batch Basic Cookie Dough
½ cup Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Bits or 1 large Heath Bar, finely chopped Confectioners' sugar
Confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator (or freezer); knead it 4 or 5 times on work surface to soften. Sprinkle Heath Bits over the dough; work in with your hands to combine.
2. Roll the dough into walnut-size balls and place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes or until bottoms start to brown. Remove from the oven; let cookies cool. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and store in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers.

How Kids Can Help:
Combine Heath Bits with dough
Roll dough into balls

Stained-Glass Cookies
These sparkling gems will also make beautiful ornaments. Poke a hole near the top before baking

Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Baking Time: About 10 Minutes
Yield: 18 Cookies

Ingredients:
½ cup red or green hard candies, such as Life Savers
½ batch Basic Cookie Dough
Flour for dusting
Rolling pin
Sugar for sprinkling on cookies

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Process candies in food processor fitted with metal blade until finely ground, or crush with a mortar and pestle. Scrape into a bowl.
2. Remove dough from refrigerator (or freezer); knead it 4 or 5 times on work surface to soften. Roll to ½-inch thickness with lightly floured rolling pin. Cut out cookies with a 3-inch cookie cutter, then cut out a small opening in center of each. Place cookies on baking sheet 1 inch apart.
3. Use a small spoon to fill each cutout with candy; smooth level with dough. Sprinkle cookies with sugar. Repeat with remaining dough.
4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until bottoms start to brown. Let cool 5 minutes on baking sheet before moving with a spatula to a wire rack to cool completely, about 15 more minutes. Store in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers.

How Kids Can Help:
Roll out dough and cut out cookies
Pour in candy
Sprinkle sugar on cookies

Photos: Jim Franco
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