Spice up refrigerated cookie dough with these easy tips

Oh, store-bought sugar-cookie dough, where have you been my whole life?

I thought it was cheating to use you, but I've toned back the snob dial enough to learn a few things about refrigerated cookie dough. It's easy to use, tastes pretty good and, most importantly, can be used as a base for many different cookies.

Here's what you need to know:

-- Let the dough stand for 10 to 15 minutes, then break it up and place it in a plastic bag or a bowl. It's easiest to mix add-ins into the dough by hand.

-- Do not add too much of any wet ingredient. About 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid for an entire tube of dough is the limit, and only if you've added dry ingredients, too, such as cocoa powder or finely chopped nuts.

-- Adding chopped nuts stiffens the dough and makes it easier to form. If the dough gets too soft, add a tablespoon or two of flour and mix in well.

-- Cookies made from refrigerated dough can be frozen. Let cool completely and then store in an airtight container.

-- A standard tube will yield about 30 2-inch cookies. Directions here are for the entire tube but you can easily halve the dough and the ingredients.

The following 25 ideas will transform plain sugar-cookie dough, which isn't bad by itself, into cookies worthy of anyone.

BASIC INSTRUCTIONS

Mix ingredients well with 1 tube of refrigerated sugar-cookie dough. Roll 1 tablespoon of dough into balls, and place them about 2 inches apart on cooking sheets lined with parchment paper. This will result in a flat, 2-inch cookie. Bake for about 12 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. Cool on wire racks.

1. CRANBERRY ORANGE: Zest of one large orange, 1 teaspoon orange extract and 2/3 cup dried cranberries.

2. RUM SNAPS: 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1-1/2 teaspoons rum flavoring, 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts. Roll in confectioners' sugar after shaping and before baking.

3. CHOCOLATE-DIPPED PEANUT-BUTTER SANDWICH: Make 2-inch sugar cookies and let cool. For filling, mix 3/4 cup peanut butter with 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar. Spread flat side of half the cookies with 1 rounded teaspoon; top with remaining cookies to form a sandwich. Refrigerate until firm. Meanwhile, melt 1cup semisweet chocolate chips with 4 teaspoons of vegetable oil. Dip cookies halfway into chocolate; let excess drain off. Place cookies on waxed paper-lined cookie sheets and refrigerate to set.

4. WHITE CHOCOLATE MACADAMIA MACAROONS: 1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut, 2/3 cup white chocolate chips and 1/3 cup chopped macadamia nuts.

5. CHERRY-CHOCOLATE CHIP: 2/3 cup dried cherries and 2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips.

6. GINGER DOODLES: 1 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/4 teaspoon cloves. Roll balls in sugar mixed with cinnamon before baking.

7. MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP: 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips and 1-1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract.

8. CASHEW STRAWBERRY THUMBPRINTS: Add 2/3 cup chopped cashews and form balls. Put on cookie sheet and make small indentation with pinky that has been dipped in flour. Fill with heaping 1/4 teaspoon of seedless jelly. (Do not overfill or jelly will spread too much as cookies bake.)

9. FROSTED MAPLE WALNUT: 2/3 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts and 1-1/2 teaspoons maple flavoring. After cookies have cooled, ice with store-bought vanilla frosting mixed with maple syrup. Sprinkle with more chopped nuts.

10. CHIPS OFF THE BLOCK: 2/3 cup each peanut-butter chips and chocolate chips.

11. SAVORY ROSEMARY: 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves. Really, delicious.

12. LIME COOLERS: 2 tablespoons lime zest, 1 teaspoon lime extract and 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts.

13. MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP: 2/3 cup chocolate chips and 1-1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract.

14. CINNAMON RAISIN OATMEAL: 2/3 cup raisins, 1/3 cup instant oats and 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon.

15. TOFFEE-COFFEE CRISPS: 2/3 cup toffee bits and 1 to 2 teaspoons espresso powder.

16. SUGARED PECAN ORANGE: 2/3 cup chopped toasted pecans and zest of 1 orange. Roll in sugar before baking.

17. FUN-FETTI: Roll balls in multicolored sprinkles before baking.

18. PISTACHIO CHERRY: Cup chopped salted pistachios and 2/3 cup dried cherries.

19. PIGNOLI PUFFS: 1/2 cup chopped toasted pine nuts and 1 teaspoon almond extract.

20. LEMON BLUEBERRY: 2/3 cup dried blueberries and zest of 2 lemons.

21. HONEY-ROASTED PEANUT CRISPS: 2/3 cup chopped honey-roasted peanuts.

22. LEMON THUMBPRINTS: Mix zest of 1 lemon with dough and roll into balls. Place on cookie sheet; make small indentation with pinky. Fill with heaping 1/4 teaspoon of lemon curd. (Do not overfill or lemon curd will spread too much as cookies bake.)

23. KISSING COOKIES: After dough is rolled into ball, push an unwrapped Hershey's Kiss candy into the center before baking.

24. M&MS AND PEANUT: 2/3 cup coarsely chopped peanuts and 2/3 cup plain or peanut-butter M&Ms.

25. CHAI SWEETS: 1 teaspoon cardamom, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper and 1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream. Roll in sugar before baking.

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