POST UPDATED Feb. 6, 2022 with tips on storing royal icing! Scroll down!
When it comes to cookie decorating, one of the most under appreciated tools in your kitchen might be your freezer! Your freezer will be helpful throughout the decorating process, especially with a very large cookie order, a busy cookie holiday season, or even just balancing a cookie project with a busy life schedule.
Before we get started, I want to mention that sometimes people can be uncertain about freezing. It's not cheating. It's not a short-cut. It's a tool in your kitchen that can help you be more efficient. So be confident if you choose to freeze after reading this post.
Here are my best freezing tips for dough and cookies.
Tips for Freezing Dough
Whether you're mixing dough in large quantities or using a smaller stand mixer to work ahead, here are some tips for freezing cookie dough.
I successfully mixed double batches of dough in my 5-quart mixer for years before leaping to a 20-quart mixer. In 2012, I invested in a large 20-quart Advantco Mixer.
Her name is Big Bertha (named after my Nana). I love this mixer because it can handle mixing 8 batches of dough at once - I call it a JUMBO BATCH. If I have a busy baking season on the horizon, I will mix 3 Jumbo Batches in one morning.
Tip #1: Mix Enough Dough to Cover a Certain Time Frame
Making dough in that quantity is definitely a time saver. I like to mix enough dough that I only have to do it once per month. That means I only have to shop once per month, prep ingredients once per month, mix dough once per month, and clean up the mixer once per month.
Tip #2: Freeze Dough in a Patty, not a ball shape
After I mix my dough, I scrape the bowl well and remove all the dough. I set it on plastic wrap (I have the large roll from Sam's Club). I fold the plastic over the dough and then I press it flat. Storing as a patty will maximize your freezer space AND make rolling out your dough much easier.
Tip #3: Wrap Your Dough Well
Keep your dough as fresh as possible by wrapping well. I wrap in plastic wrap and then insert each patty into a Gallon Ziplock Freezer-Quality Bag. There is a difference in the plastic between the standard gallon and freezer gallon. Go for the upgrade! Add the date to the dough for an easy reference.
Tip #4: Thaw the Night Before
The day before you plan to roll and bake. Take the dough out of the freezer and put it in your fridge to thaw overnight. I love rolling dough that has been frozen, but that is not STILL frozen. Hahaha. It could be a food risk to try to quickly thaw on your counter. Stay safe by planning 1 day ahead.
Tip #5: Watch out for the Funky Freezer
Avoid strange odors seeping into your beautiful vanilla dough! I am fortunate that my freezer is only for cookies and dough. But if you have to share freezer space with your family freezer, be sure to clean it out regularly and keep an up-to-date box of Arm & Hammer baking soda in it.
Tips for Freezing Undecorated Cookies
Go ahead, do a big bake and freeze your cookies. Get ahead and bake several projects at once and pull them out of the freezer when you're ready to decorate!
Tip #1 Bake and Cool
For maximum freshness, bake your cookies and allow them to cool before freezing. I like to freeze as soon as the cookie feels cool (usually cools completely in under an hour).
Tip #2 Stack and Store
I have used different freezer containers to freeze cookies, but in the end, I usually use the gallon ziplock bag. I find that 24 cookies (4 stacks of 6 cookies) fit perfectly in the bag. And this fits well in my freezer. I am using a side-by-side fridge/freezer unit. I'll stack 3 bags high on one shelf and I can usually fit two rows, so that is 144 cookies stored per shelf. I don't have an issue with cookies breaking, but I'm careful with how I pack and stack the cookies (keeping the large, less fragile shapes on the bottom).
Tip #3 Allow 3-4 Hours for Cookies to Come to Room Temp
I don't decorate the cookies frozen. To be honest, I haven't tried it. It just seems safer to decorate room temp cookies. I pull the cookies out 3-4 hours before I decorate and set the package on the counter. I keep the ziplock bag closed, no need to open, the cookies will just start to get stale. If I'm planning an early start to the day, I will pull the cookies out the night before.
Freezing cookies is especially helpful for my cookie classes. I love to bake in advance and freeze so I can focus on other areas of class prep leading up the class. I can spend up to 4 hours baking for a full class weekend. It's nice to get this done in advance. (by the way, did you know I have an ebook dedicated to hosting classes? I do! Check it out - CLICK HERE)
Tips for Freezing Decorated Cookies
Whether or not I'm planning to freeze, I like to complete the cookie process in 36 hours (that's from baking to decorating to wrapping). I find this is best for my cookie freshness. I will bake the night before I decorate. Then I decorate the next day. I let the decorated cookies dry in the cool oven overnight, and then I'll wrap the next morning.
Decorated Cookies freeze really well. More often than not, I work ahead and freeze almost all of my cookies (especially for my own family projects). I love having a buffer zone with cookie deadlines (and in life), so if I can work ahead, I will make the effort to do so.
Tip #1 Allow icing to Dry before Freezing
After you decorate your cookies, allow the icing to dry 18 hours. I store my decorated cookies in a cool oven overnight before I pack and freeze.
Tip #2 Store in Freezer Bag or Container
Use a freezer quality container or bag (same reasons as above). If you are freezing the cookies unwrapped, be sure to layer parchment or wax paper between the cookies to avoid leaving butter marks on the cookies. I typically pack all of my cookies before freezing in a heat sealed plastic bag (get more tips on packing cookies - click here). I'll even add ribbons or the bubble pouch before freeze, just so the cookies are ready to pull and go!
Tip #3 Allow 3-4 Hours for Cookies to Thaw
Last year, I did an order for 1,200 cookies. If I'm working on a big project, I know I can comfortably bake and decorate 200 every 2 days. I freeze as I go. Then when the cookies are due, I pull them out of the freezer.
**Important Freezer Tip! It's important to allow decorated cookies to come to room temp before opening the freezer bag or container, especially if you wrapped your cookies in bags before freezing. If you don't allow the cookies to come to room temp, the temperature difference could cause condensation inside the cookie package and could result in color bleeding on your icing. So, again, allow those cookies to come to room temp before opening the bag/container!
Tip #4 Freeze Once
I don't have scientific evidence to back up this tip, but in my experience it is best to freeze just once. Refreezing can dry out your cookies. So if I froze the undecorated cookies, I will not also freeze after decorating...it really depends on my schedule and when I have time to bake and decorate. But, I don’t freeze twice.
Tip #5 Store up to 3 Months
If packed and stored well, I will freeze cookies (and dough) up to 3 months. Again, cookies and dough can be sensitive to scents in the freezer, so it might be helpful to keep a box of Arm & Hammer close by.
Tips for Storing and Freezing Royal Icing
I like to mix my icing the day before I decorate. Since I'm using meringue powder, I will store icing on the countertop. But, if you're using a recipe with egg whites, you'll need to store the icing in the refrigerator.
If I'm working a few days in advance, I will store icing the refrigerator (up to a week).
If I'm working a few weeks in advance (like for a BIG cookie project), I will store icing in the freezer...again in a freezer quality container. I store icing up to 30 days. Arm & Hammer will keep your freezer from getting funky.
After you read this post, if you're still unsure, I recommend freezing a few tester cookies with your next cookie project. Then you can decide if freezing cookies is an option for you. Most people would never be able to tell if a cookie had been frozen. AND, I even have a cookie friend that freezes ALL her cookies intentionally because she thinks it makes them softer.
Are you looking for more tips on working smarter, not harder? Check out my in-depth online class SMART COOKIES. Here's a sneak peek at the class!
Smart Cookies is all about navigating the cookie process better, faster and more efficiently while still having fun! It covers so many topics including: designing cookie sets, creating a cookie timeline, planning for icing, saving time with quick techniques, all while keeping the JOY in decorating! Plus, it is packed with lots of fun cookie demos!!!