Maybe you’ve gone full Julie & Julia, working your way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Maybe you simply love dessert. Wherever you fall on the culinary spectrum, one thing’s for sure: You can bake an incredible cookie. Even if you think you can’t. Most come together without too much of a fuss and bake in minutes (note that we said “most”—ahem, macarons!). That’s why we’re challenging you to try your hand at what we’ve deemed the 21 essential types of cookies to master. Conquer these, and you’ll be every bit the connoisseur as that blue guy from Sesame Street.
1. Black and White Cookies
Depending on who you talk to, these aren’t cookies at all but “drop cakes,” given their fluffy texture and fine crumb. (But, considering the word “cookie” actually comes from “koekje,” a Dutch word meaning “little cake,” we still say it deserves a spot on this list.) The Black and White Cookie has a cake-like vanilla or chocolate base, half iced with white frosting, half with chocolate. It’s an iconic treat to try in New York City, but if you’re not headed there anytime soon, you can easily whip up a batch courtesy of Ina Garten.
2. Butter Cookies
Also known as Sablés, these unleavened cookies are crisp and—you guessed it—buttery. It’s simple, elegant and lends well to flavor-boosting additions, like chopped nuts, citrus zest or, as Sally’s Baking Addiction demonstrates, a partial dunk in melted chocolate.
3. Cake Mix Cookies
High-brow these aren’t, but delicious they are. Boxed cake mix yields many of the dry ingredients you need for a chewy-bordering-on-pillowy cookie. It’s a great cookie for beginners—and for making use of any chopped candy you have in your pantry (mix-ins work well here!).
4. Chocolate Chip Cookies
Bless Ruth Wakefield, inventor of the chocolate chip cookie. It first appeared in her 1938 cookbook, Tried and True, and has spawned such an obsession that just about everyone has their own riff on the recipe. And while we love it espresso-infused, caramel-stuffed or supersized in a skillet, we’re suckers for the classic.
5. Crinkle Cookies
While crinkle cookies are best known for their chocolate base, you can find riffs in just about any flavor imaginable. There’s just one constant: Those balls of dough need to be rolled in confectioners’ sugar just before baking, so that as they bake, they spread out and “crinkle,” revealing the chewy cookie beneath the powdery exterior.
6. Gingerbread Cookies
Gingerbread men have been around for hundreds of years (back in the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I had a royal gingerbread maker on staff, according to Time), and they don’t have to be confined to the holiday season. If all the frosting and decorating feels too tedious for you, try making a lattice weave from the dough, then using cookie cutters to cut out your dough. The end result is every bit as impressive—and less messy.
Just as some people have strong opinions on whether brownies should be cakey or fudgy, gingersnap lovers get pretty divided over whether the cookie is at its best when its chewy or crisp. We like ours pillowy (see the recipe below), but if you prefer more of a crunch (hey, “snap” is in the name, right?!), try this recipe.
8. Icebox Cookies
You may know these as slice-and-bake cookies or refrigerator cookies, but the concept is the same: You prepare a dough, roll it into a log, tightly wrap it in parchment paper and refrigerate it for at least two hours to let the flavors meld. From there, you can store it in the freezer for up to three months, until it’s ready to bake. Feel free to experiment with all kinds of flavors and mix-ins; we’ll get you started with our go-to lemon variety.
This delicate French sandwich cookie features a crisp exterior that gives way to a chewy, airy, almost-cakelike interior. And achieving that texture is, well, work. It requires precise measurements—including doing plenty of sifting and piping—but the end result is worth it.
Often confused with macarons (by name alone), these cookies couldn’t be more different. Sure, this cookie also contains egg whites and sugar, but a macaroon is much denser, made largely of shredded coconut. They require a fraction of the cook time (and patience), and are more of a kid-friendly project, should you want to get the whole fam involved.
11. Meringue Cookies
Light, airy and at 35 calories a pop (at least for Gimme Some Oven’s recipe), these little cookies won’t weigh you down. The key to preventing them from cracking is letting them cool down in the oven before you take them out.
12. Mexican Wedding Cookies
Some people know these sweet, buttery cookies as snowball cookies, due to its liberal coating of confectioners’ sugar. Unlike crinkles, these cookies don’t spread, and you want to underbake them, so they’re very lightly golden and get a “melt-in-your-mouth type of consistency” when you bite into ‘em, says Norma Salazar, Pastry & Baking Arts Instructor-Chef at the Institute of Culinary Education.
13. Oatmeal Raisin
With its generous helping of old-fashioned oats and raisins, these cookies feel almost virtuous (keyword: almost). Just don’t skimp on the cinnamon, and veer on the side of overbaking, so your treats stay chewy, not rock hard.
14. Peanut Butter Cookies
It’s an unforgettable flavor profile, and they’re just about the easiest cookies to make. Seriously. All you need is sugar, an egg and, well, peanut butter.
15. Peanut Butter Blossoms
You could broaden this category to “Kiss cookies” if you’re not into peanut butter (or have an allergy), but Peanut Butter Blossoms are the quintessential bake-a-cookie-and-pop-an-unwrapped-Hershey’s-Kiss-on-top treat.
16. Sandwich Cookies
Consider this your excuse to run wild, baking your favorite cookies, slathering half with frosting and pairing ‘em to make little dessert sandwiches. However, if you want to stretch beyond your comfort zone, try a miniature twist on a childhood staple: chocolate sandwich cookies with crème frosting.
17. Shortbread Cookies
Similar in flavor and texture to butter cookies, shortbread is a Scottish treat that combines sugar, butter and flour. It has a nice snap to it, making it great for dunking in coffee, since it doesn’t include a leavener, like baking powder or baking soda. You don’t have to top yours with dried, edible flowers, but you’ve got to admit, they make these simple sweets look pretty impressive.
Snickerdoodles are known for their cinnamon-y crust, but purists know that’s not all that separates this treat from a classic sugar cookie: Classic snickerdoodles also include a little cream of tartar, which gives it a slightly tangy flavor.
19. Spritz Cookies
Spritz cookies are a lot like sugar cookies (more on those in a sec), only they’re often “spritzed” out of a cookie press, forming fun, decorative shapes. The dough is pretty simple—butter, flour, sugar, egg, salt and vanilla—but you can jazz it up with sprinkles or food coloring.
20. Sugar Cookies
Sure, you could settle for refrigerated dough from the grocery store, but after seeing just how easy it is to make sugar cookies from scratch…why would you? Frosting the top is optional, yet highly encouraged.
21. Thumbprint Cookies
At the intersection of easy and impressive is this little cookie. It takes minutes to stir together the batter, and all you need is a little store-bought jam and your thumb to create an eye-catching dessert. Bonus points if you make yours heart-shaped.