As a general rule of thumb, you should refrigerate cookie dough for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. More than that and you won’t see a noticeable difference in the final product, says Haught Brown.
Popping your dough in the fridge allows the fats to cool. As a result, the cookies will expand more slowly, holding onto their texture. If you skip the chilling step, you’re more likely to wind up with flat, sad disks instead of lovely, chewy cookies. Cookies made from chilled dough are also much more flavorful.
Instead of rolling the cookie dough post-chilling, Dorie suggests rolling it out pre-chilling, but between two sheets of parchment paper instead of on a floured work surface. Sandwiched by parchment, your very-pliable dough has no chance of latching onto your rolling pin or your kitchen counter.
Chilling cookie dough before baking solidifies the fat in the cookies. As the cookies bake, the fat in the chilled cookie dough takes longer to melt than room-temperature fat. And the longer the fat remains solid, the less cookies spread. In addition, the sugar in the dough gradually absorbs liquid.
Refrigerating cookie dough: Sugar cookie dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up 5 days before use. Chilling the dough can help control the spread of your cookies during baking and, depending on how long you refrigerate the dough, may lead to a more concentrated flavor and a crisper cookie post-baking.
Let it sit for long enough—the famous Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookie, published in the New York Times, mandates a rest of at least 24 hours and up to 72—and the starches and proteins in the flour begin to break down, leading to more browning and caramelization.
Many cookie recipes call for long refrigeration times, but a finicky dough or a little extra chilling time can result in dough that’s as hard as a rock, and nearly impossible to work with. Merrill recommends putting dough near a warm stove, and pounding it with a rolling pin once it starts to soften.
Frozen or chilled dough will take longer than room temperature dough to bake. Just keep an eye on the cookies as they bake and remove them when they start to color around the edges and lose their raw shine in the middle. Bar Cookies: The bake time will depend on how thick the bars are, so check them often.
The ideal thickness to roll out your sugar cookie dough is about 1/4″–that way, they’ll be tough enough to be handled and decorated, but thin enough to stay a little crunchy.