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14 Ways To Upgrade Store-Bought Cookie Dough

If you're a busy adult, you may know the feeling of forgetting about the bake sale fundraiser you planned to make a fresh batch of homemade cookies for. You can't knowingly settle for purchasing a tub of cookies from your local grocery store, nor can you stomach those little design-printed sugar cookies sold around the holidays (or you just want to save those for yourself). How can you make a batch of cookies that don't scream "last-minute grocery store run," especially if you don't have all the ingredients at home to make your own homemade cookies?

You can make any store-bought cookie dough tub, slice-and-bake, or powdered mix that tastes homemade with the addition of a few special ingredients. Using store-bought cookie dough is convenient, fast, and usually can be made in less than an hour. Plus, you'll avoid the plasticky taste of those soft sugar cookies or cookie tubs. Here are some of our recommendations for how you can upgrade your store-bought dough.

Sprinkle salt on the cookies before baking

Salt is an important flavor amplifier in all types of culinary applications, but adding it to cookies takes the flavors a step up. From a chemical perspective, adding salt to cookies after baking brings out the sweet notes of the cookie, unlike other ingredients. You'll want to be sure to add flaked sea salt after the cookies are finished baking to ensure the salt does not meld into the rest of the cookie. We recommend sprinkling coarse sea salt rather than fine sea salt for the added textural element. When the salt on the cookie touches your tongue after its finished baking, the contrast of the sugar and the salt will provide numerous flavors in the same bite.

You may think that adding extra salt to the cookie after it's finished baking will spike your sodium levels, you should first recognize that adding salt to the cold dough performs a different function than the flavorful addition after the bake; the salt in the dough strengthens the protein bonds in the cookie and creates a chewier cookie. And plus, a little salt in a decadent treat will balance out the sweetness overload.

Add instant pudding mix to the cookie dough batter

The secret to a decadent cookie is in the same aisle as the powdered cookie mixes. Instant pudding mix improves the softness and texture of the finished cookie because it locks in moisture. The wide variety of pudding flavors — like lemon, chocolate, and vanilla — opens up the opportunity for mixing and matching pudding and cookie flavors to craft your dream cookie.

The exact ratio of pudding in the cookie varies on the recipe, but the general rule of thumb is a 3.4-ounce box (standard boxed pudding size) per stick of butter. Adding boxed pudding to your recipe works best when you're working with powdered cookie mixes rather than pre-made cookie dough. If you plan on adding pudding to your dry mix, you won't need to make the pudding before adding it to the bowl. You will however need to add about an hour to ensure the cookie dough can chill adequately before baking.

Bake the cookies in a muffin tin for evenly-browned sides

Getting the perfect texture with store-bought cookie dough can be tough. But when you bake the cookies in a muffin tin rather than a baking sheet, the entire dough will be surrounded by the even heat of the metal. This technique promotes even doneness around the cookie and can satisfy folks who like a crisp cookie and those who like a soft, decadent cookie. If you want to make smaller cookies, you can use a small muffin tin instead of a regular-size tin — and the same goes for massive chocolate chip cookies instead.

This tip works for both tubs of cookie dough and cookie dough and slice-to-bake cookie dough rolls. Plus, the shape of the cookie is ideal for stacking with a ball of ice cream for a take on an ice cream sandwich or making cookie nachos to dip into a bowl of melted chocolate.

Use cayenne pepper for a bit of heat

Adding a sprinkle of dried cayenne pepper to your favorite refrigerated cookie dough can provide a unique flavor and heat. From a scientific angle, the addition of cayenne complements the floral, nutty, and earthy notes of the chocolate in the cookie. While chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, is most commonly paired with this spicy ingredient in cookies, you can also find some recipes that use cayenne as a tool to balance out the sweetness of the cookie.

Since cayenne is hot, you'll want to add the spice to your cookies with care. You should add between ¼ and ½ teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper for three dozen cookies. You can also add a teaspoon of cinnamon and a hint of ginger to help balance out the heat from the peppers. Just be sure not to overdo the spice, or you may end up with inedible cookies.

Add a few drops of extract to flavor your cookies

If you're making cookies from a boxed mix, an easy way to add your own spin to the cookies is to add a tinge of almond, rum, or citrus extract from your spice cabinet. These extracts are made by concentrating flavors in an alcohol solution. The result is a powerful flavor made with a scant amount of solution.

Not all extracts work best for all cookies, so you should add these flavor enhancers with care. Almond extract, for example, provides an aromatic and nutty undertone that complements other types of nuts and chocolate. Rum extract can be used with dried fruits like raisins and cranberries because it enhances floral and fruity flavors. If you're making a sugar cookie and want to curb the sweetness, stick to a few drops of orange or lemon extract and a garnish of candied citrus peel.

Look into your snack drawer for ideas

It's clear that cookies are not meant to be boring. If you want to add a bit of crunch and saltiness to your cookies, consider checking in your snack drawer for some ideas. Kitchen sink cookies are easy to make from a base of chocolate chip or sugar cookie dough. Everything but the kitchen sink cookies are just that — customizable to whatever ingredients you have on hand. The Great American Cookie Company makes its kitchen sink cookies with almonds, cranberries, oats, chocolate chips, shredded coconut, peanuts, and chocolate candies — but you can integrate other ingredients into your dream cookie.

Another popular choice in cookies is pretzels — you'll get the crunchiness and the saltiness of the pretzel complementing chocolate or the sweetness of dried fruit. Another unique way to make cookies is to add popped popcorn to the batter before baking. It's the perfect treat to make for a movie night.

Add a drizzle of tempered chocolate for a professional flair

Nothing says fancy like a drizzle of tempered chocolate on your finished cookies. Correctly tempering chocolate provides a glossy finish and a crisp snap when you bite into it. Failure to temper your chocolate correctly will cause the chocolate to dry, crumble, and break when you go to drizzle it on the cookies. Tempering is most commonly done on a double boiler, but you can temper chocolate in the microwave if you do it correctly.

You can use milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or white chocolate for tempering. If you plan to make chocolate, you should try avoiding chocolate chips and opt for a bar instead. Chocolate chips usually include additives to stop the chips from losing shape during melting. Different kinds of chocolate also have different melting points, so it's important to do your research before you turn your stovetop burner on.

Consult warming spices for added flavor

The best part about a homemade cookie is the warmness and heat from a combination of spices. You can easily make homemade sugar cookie dough into a snickerdoodle cookie by combining cinnamon and cream of tartar into the powdered cookie dough. You can also make a spin on a German spice cookie with the addition of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cardamom, ginger, mace, and star anise. Roll the dough into small balls, bake, and cover with a vanilla glaze. Both of these cookies make you feel like you're giving your body a hug — they're that comforting.

For additional flavor in your spices, you can consider toasting the spices before you add them to the dough. If you're using whole spices, toss the spices in a pan over medium heat until fragrant. You'll need to shake the pan as much as possible to prevent the spices from sticking to the pan and burning. If you plan to use ground spices, cook the ground spices in a pan in a liquid (other than oil). Cook until the liquid has vaporized from the pan and the spices are fragrant.

Garnish your cookies with a stencil and powdered sugar

People won't be able to tell your cookies are store-bought if you add an elegant garnish on top. You can make almost any cookie look professional when you grab a stencil and a bit of powdered sugar. You can make a reusable cookie stencil using a Cricut cutting machine or a similar device, or purchase pre-made stencils from Amazon in fun, festive designs for whatever occasion you're making cookies with. When you're ready to decorate, simply place the stencil on the cookie and sift the powdered sugar on the cookie. When you're ready to move onto the net cookie, shake off the extra powdered sugar.

If you're looking for a dark color contrast, you can use cocoa powder to chocolate-fy your cookies. For colored decorating sugar, you can blitz colored sugar in a high powdered food processor for sift-able sugar that doesn't clump on the top of your cookies.

Add browned butter to dried mix

The easiest way to make anything better? More butter. And if you're making cookies from a powdered mix, you need to use brown butter instead of regular stick butter. Brown butter is made by heating butter on a stove over medium heat. You'll need to watch the butter closely to look for tiny brown flecks; this means the butter is toasting. Once you smell a nutty aroma and the brown flecks darken, remove the brown butter from the heat and place it in a separate bowl to stop the cooking process.

You can substitute brown butter for regular butter using a 1-to-1 ratio. And if you're worried about the flavor of your chocolate chip cookie with the addition of browned butter — you shouldn't be. We can confidently say that using brown butter in your powered cookie mix can make any cookie better, whether you're making a simple sugar cookie or a dark chocolate crunch cookie.

Refrigerate the dough for amplified flavors

You might be wondering what benefit refrigerating your cookie dough has on the state of your cookies. From one perspective, refrigerating your cookie dough solidifies the butter, which makes it easy to work with. Cold butter also does not splat out of the dough as soon as the dough hits the heat; this is especially important when you're rolling out sugar cookie dough to cut into cookie shapes (via Martha Stewart). From a flavor perspective, refrigerating your dough can also help amplify the flavors. This is because the refrigerator removes moisture from the dough and concentrates the remaining ingredients — called "ripening" the dough.

Different recipes call for various ripening times on the dough ranging from 15 minutes to up to a whole day. For maximum flavor, you should strive for a 24-hour ripening time. But realistically, as long as you leave a few hours for your dough to harden and meld flavors, you should be set.

Sprinkle instant espresso powder for a mocha undertone

Instant espresso is a hidden ingredient in your cookie-flavoring arsenal. Espresso powder is especially important in amplifying the chocolate flavor in cookies, as well as curbing the sweetness of a sugar cookie. If you don't have instant espresso powder available, you can use instant coffee as well. Instant coffee is less bright in color and less pungent than espresso powder, but it is a simple swap that won't lead you to mess with the hydration ratio of the cookie.

Another viable option for a mocha flavor is to opt for adding brewed coffee or a shot of espresso to your powdered cookie mix. The major downside to using so much liquid coffee is a less concentrated flavor, as well as potentially overloading your cookie recipe with liquid. A quick fix to this is substituting some of the liquid ingredients, like milk, for a shot of espresso or splash of coffee.

Make a stuffed cookie recipe

If you have store-bought cookie dough, the best thing you can do to customize your cookie is to stuff it with another candy, cookie, or surprise ingredient.  One of the most popular types of stuffed cookies is made by wrapping a chocolate sandwich cookie with a hunk of chocolate chip cookie dough. You'll get a complementing crunch from the chocolate cookie pieces along with the buttery goodness of the chocolate chip cookie. For the sugar junkies, you can add a fun-sized candy bar to the middle of the cookie for a melty, confectionary surprise.

Another potential stuffing is chocolate hazelnut spread or peanut butter. You should freeze small balls of nut butter wrapped in plastic wrap ahead of time; this will make the stuffing process much easier. Then, roll out the cookie dough into tiny discs, wrap the ball of nut butter, and bake the cookies according to the package directions.

Don't limit yourself to sweet upgrades

When you're making chocolate chip cookies, you might be only considering the sweet additions — candy pieces, nut butter, or candied nuts. But there is a whole world of savory additions to your store-bought cookies just waiting for you. Tahini is a sesame paste that can serve as an excellent fat source in your cookies. These cookies are rich, savory, and excellently paired with a topping of toasted sesame seeds.

One savory addition bound to make any breakfast aficionado excited is bacon. Add cooked pieces of bacon to your cookie for an umami flavor that complements the sweetness of the cookie. When you're baking these cookies, you'll want to pre-cook the bacon ahead of time and chop the slices into tiny pieces. We would argue that the bacon is best in cookies that contain brown sugar or maple syrup, but we can let you be the judge of that.