Make-Ahead Cookie Dough to Freeze and Bake for Warm Cookies Anytime
By Kathy Przywara
Holiday cookies are perfect for giving, get-togethers, snacking on while watching a movie and, of course, leaving out for Santa. But baking dozens of cookies from different recipes can be time consuming with measuring, mixing, and baking. Then you have to find ways to store them so they don’t get stale.
What if you could start with a simple recipe that would give you dozens of different flavors of cookies? You can make quick and easy cookies to bake now. Or you can freeze them and bake a few at a time when you want fresh, warm cookies. Sound too good to be true? Read on!
When my kids were little and allergic to many things, I learned to bake and decorate cakes. I joined a local cake decorators’ club that still gets together most years for a holiday tea. We all bring something for the table and sit around talking about baking while eating yummy treats. We also do a cookie swap and bring several dozen cookies to trade. One year, a member brought “cake mix cookies.” I immediately knew I needed to adapt this recipe to be allergy friendly. Into the lab, erm, I mean kitchen, I went!
The best part of these cookies is being able to freeze the prebaked dough balls. I make and freeze different flavors. When we want fresh cookies, I pull out what each person wants and bake a tray of cookies. For some of the batches, I split the base mixture before adding any flavoring or mix-ins. Then I add different options to each part. As my freezer supply runs low, I grab another cake mix and mix up another batch. These are a hit with the whole family, and it's fun to be able to have warm cookies whenever we want!
There are many flavor options listed below. Not all will work for everyone and will depend on what you need to avoid. Since I need to bake gluten free, I’m limited to starting with vanilla or chocolate cake mixes. By adding extracts, citrus zest, spices, and other mix-ins, I’ve been able to create a wide variety of flavors. My favorite is the mint chocolate chip rolled in green sanding sugar. My son and husband love snickerdoodles with candied gingers bits mixed in. My daughter grabs the chocolate crinkles first.
Customizable Allergy-Friendly Cake Mix Cookies
1 package cake mix (approx. 15 oz.)
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract or other flavoring (optional)
1 tsp flavor of your choice (examples: cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, espresso powder − optional)
1 cup mix-ins (examples: chocolate chips, chopped nuts, coated candies, toasted coconut, chopped dried fruit)
1/4 cup coating (examples: powdered sugar, colored sugar, cinnamon sugar mixture − optional)
Preheat oven to 375 F. Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper or grease lightly.
Cream margarine using a mixer or by hand with a wooden spoon. Mix in applesauce, baking powder, and flavoring (extract and/or spices/coffee). This will look curdled and you will think you did something wrong – it’s fine! This will not make a smooth mixture at this point.
Add half of cake mix and mix until well incorporated. If using a stand mixer, you can continue with the mixer on a slow speed. If using a hand mixer, switch to mixing by hand. Add remaining cake mix and mix until just combined. Add mix-in and stir to combine.
Scoop or roll loosely into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheets 1 to 2 inches apart. Optionally, roll balls in coating (powdered or granulated sugar, colored sugar, sugar and spice mixture, or sprinkles) before placing on trays.
Bake for about 8 to 12 minutes. This will depend on how big your cookies are and how cakey or chewy you like them. Bake for shorter time for chewier cookies. Cookies should be set but not browned.
Allow to cool 8 to 10 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely.
Makes around two dozen.
Your cake mix should weigh about 15 ounces. Many gluten-free mixes are meant to make a smaller cake. Look for ones that make two layers or use two mixes.
I have tried this recipe with several different brands of gluten-free cake mixes, and all the ones I’ve tried have worked well. The original recipe creator has used many different wheat-flour-based mixes.
If the margarine is too soft or the dough feels sticky, you may need to refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. If you don’t, the cookies will spread too thin when baking.
Use a cookie scoop for easy even portioning. Drop the portions onto the parchment paper, roll each ball in your palms, and then roll in the coating.
If you are not avoiding eggs, you can replace the applesauce and baking powder with two lightly beaten eggs.
Make Cookie Dough in Advance to Freeze
You can shape the cookie dough into balls and freeze before baking. Portion cookies, roll in the coating, and then set them on parchment-covered trays. Freeze solid and then transfer to airtight containers or zip-top bags. Mark the containers with the date and flavor. Make several different flavors and choose a variety before baking for a delicious assortment of cookies. When ready to bake, place the balls on a baking sheet and allow them to thaw while the oven preheats. The cookies may take a minute or too longer to bake from frozen.
*Depending on your allergies, not all options may be possible.
Chocolate Crinkles – chocolate cake mix, mini chocolate chips, and rolled in powdered sugar
Chocolate Toffee Chip – chocolate cake mix, mini chocolate chips, and toffee pieces
Mexican Hot Chocolate Crinkles – chocolate cake mix, cinnamon, mini chocolate chips, and rolled in powdered sugar
Mocha Chip – chocolate cake mix, espresso powder or instant coffee granules, and mini chocolate chips
Snickerdoodles – vanilla cake mix, candied ginger bits, and rolled in a mix of 1/4 cup sugar plus 1 tsp cinnamon or pie spice
Chocolate Chip – yellow cake mix and chocolate chips
Mint Chocolate Chip – chocolate cake mix, peppermint extract, mini chocolate chips, and rolled in green sanding sugar
Lemon Crinkles – vanilla cake mix, lemon extract, 1 Tbsp lemon zest, and rolled in powdered sugar (This will make fewer cookies since there is no mix-in)
Cranberry Chip – vanilla cake mix, white or chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and rolled in coarse sugar
Butterscotch Chip – yellow cake mix and butterscotch chips
Red Velvet – red velvet cake mix with cream cheese flavoring and white chocolate chips
Nutty Spice Cookies − spice cake mix, cinnamon, candied pecans, and rolled in cinnamon sugar
Carrot Cake − carrot cake mix, candied pecans, and toasted coconut
German Chocolate – German chocolate cake mix, almond extract, almonds or pecans, and toasted coconut
Chocolate-Covered Strawberry – strawberry cake mix, chocolate chips, and rolled into 3 Tbsp of powdered sugar mixed with 1 Tbsp cocoa
Kathy Przywara is the Senior Community Director for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). Kids With Food Allergies (KFA) is the food allergy division of AAFA. She is known as “KathyP” on our forums and has contributed dozens of recipes to our Safe Eats® recipe collection.
Looking for more allergy-friendly dishes to serve for the holidays? Check out our Safe Eats® Allergy-Friendly Recipe Collection. It includes nearly 1,500 recipes from our community members, including several allergy-friendly casseroles, side dishes and desserts. Search by category and allergens to find recipes to make at home and add recipes of your own! Also, join our online community to talk with other people managing food allergies about holiday cooking tips.