America’s Test Kitchen uses a rigorous evaluation process. Its team puts tools and equipment to work, over and over, to see how well they perform, then takes them apart to figure out why they work — or don’t. The team tries to damage them to assess durability, sends some for laboratory analysis, and even interviews engineers, designers and scientists about them. The ATK goal: to recommend well-made products that provide good, lasting value.

Prep

As almost any experienced baker will tell you, the best way to guarantee cookie success is to weigh your ingredients. Using a scale is more accurate and consistent than measuring by volume, particularly when it comes to flour, where small variations can give you dense, flat cookies instead of tender, well-risen ones. The best scales are easy to read, easy to use and easy to clean. They make dividing dough into large or individual portions much easier. Plus, you can cut down on cleanup when you reset the scale to zero after each addition and measure ingredients consecutively into a single bowl.

Yes, the mixing bowl you use matters. Be sure you have bowls in small, medium and large sizes (as a set or build your own) that will cover you for a wide array of tasks. Lightweight models that are easy to grip and pour from make cooking a breeze, too. The height you prefer might depend on how tall you and your counters are, not to mention what exactly you are mixing and the potential for flyaway ingredients. Metal is generally lighter, but glass is handy, too, because it’s microwaveable.

AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

OXO Good Grips 11 Pound Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display

This scale truly has it all: ­consistent accuracy; a clear, bright digital display (which pulls out from the frame and includes a ­backlight); responsive, clearly labeled buttons; a removable platform that makes cleanup a breeze; and a sturdy, slim body that stores easily. Weights can be displayed in both grams and ounces.

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Vollrath Economy Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls

The broad, shallow shape of these inexpensive bowls put food within easy reach and allowed for wide turns of a spatula. These were also the lightest bowls in the lineup — the combined weight of all three that we tested was less than 1½ pounds — allowing us to comfortably lift, scrape, and pour.

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For many cookie recipes, you’ll be measuring straight into the bowl of a stand mixer. Nothing beats it for making a big batch of cookies. The strong motors can power through thick dough faster and more efficiently than your arm ever could. And when it comes to whipping fluffy mounds of egg whites for meringues or macarons, these workhorses (be sure to choose a model with sufficient horsepower) are worth every penny and inch of counter (or cabinet) space. For big-batch baking, a larger bowl is crucial, but if size and money are limiting factors, you can still do a lot with a smaller, less expensive model.

The other major appliance you might turn to for cookies is a food processor. It can work wonders in savory applications, but don’t discount its potential as a baking tool. This mechanical sous-chef can chop nuts and chocolate. You can use it to make your own gluten-free oat and nut flours. It can even pull together a buttery shortbread dough. A big food processor (11- to 14-cup capacity) is the most versatile and powerful. A small processor can be handy for prep work and small amounts, although its usefulness is limited.

AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

KitchenAid Pro Line Series 7-Qt Bowl Lift Stand Mixer

This powerful, smartly designed machine made quick work of large and small volumes of food. The bent tines of its whisk fit the bowl’s shape perfectly, its Y-shaped paddle creamed quickly without allowing butter to bunch up in the crevices, and the model handled batches of stiff dough without flinching. Testers liked the bowl-lift design and large vertical bowl handle that aided pouring.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

KitchenAid Classic Plus Series 4.5-Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer

Inexpensive | This basic, compact, heavy machine’s across-the-board performance knocked out many competitors that were bigger and much more costly (although its tilt head broke on an extreme abuse test). We wish that its bowl had a handle, and a bowl-lift (rather than a tilt-head) design would have been nice, but those are small concessions given its affordable price.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

Cuisinart Custom 14 Food Processor

With a powerful, quiet motor; responsive pulsing action; sharp blades; and a simple, pared-down-to-basics design, our longtime favorite standard-size food processor aced every test, surprising us time and again by outshining pricier, more feature-filled competitors. It was one of the few models that didn’t leak at its maximum stated liquid capacity. It’s also easy to clean and store, because it comes with just a chopping blade and two disks for shredding and slicing. Additional blade options are available à la carte.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

Cuisinart Elite Collection 4-Cup Chopper/Grinder

Small | This processor had a sharp blade with great coverage. It turned out crisply cut vegetables and nuts and fluffy parsley. Its strong motor blended hummus and pesto with minimal scraping, and its small feeding tube allowed us to slowly add oil for fantastic mayonnaise.

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So you’ve got your dough made. Now what? At this time of year, a likely next step is rolling, especially for such seasonal staples as gingerbread and sugar cookies. To make them, you need a good rolling pin. The best models are solid enough to help you apply pressure to dough but not so heavy that they will crush it. You want something with a smooth surface to achieve dough with even thickness but textured enough not to stick to what you’re rolling out. Handles might seem helpful, but it's easier to control a rolling pin made of a single piece. In this instance, a simple, old-fashioned dowel is the best, and, as it turns out, pretty inexpensive.

Just like a rolling pin, a bench scraper is especially useful when it comes to rolled cookies. It can help you lift dough off the counter or cut it into portions. A bench scraper is also a convenient item to have on hand for cleanup, whether you’re sweeping flour away or prying up stuck bits of dough. You could use it to cut baked slabs of bar cookies after they’ve been removed from the pan. Two things to look for when picking a bench scraper: An easy-to-grip handle and a thin, beveled edge that can easily get under or through dough.

AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

J.K. Adams Plain Maple Rolling Dowel

This pin capably handled dough for pie, cookies, pizza and yeasted rolls, with gentle weight and a slightly textured surface that holds a dusting of flour for less sticking. Its long, straight shape made achieving even dough thickness and rolling out larger disks easy.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

Dexter-Russell 6" Dough Cutter/Scraper—Sani-Safe Series

The deeply beveled edge of this scraper cut through pizza and bread dough quickly and scraped the work surface effectively. The textured polypropylene handle was easy to hold on to, even with greasy or floury hands, and was thinner than other scrapers’ handles, helping us hold it flat to the work surface for easier, more effective scooping and scraping.

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You probably have a collection of favorite cookie cutters in festive shapes, so it can be easy to ignore plain ol’ biscuit cutters. But they’re not just for the fluffy breakfast treats they’re named after. They’re ideal for creating perfectly round cookies, too. A circular sugar or gingerbread cookie is a great canvas for decorative treats to eat or display, in the shape of a Christmas tree ornament or, with multiple sizes, a snowman. A set with different sizes will help you create sandwich or Linzer cookies with peekaboo holes that allow a pretty jam to shine through. Sturdy, stainless steel cutters will stand up to the pressure of your hand, and sharp edges are crucial for crisp lines around the outside of the cookie.

If you’re not cutting out cookies, odds are you’re scooping dough. Think oatmeal, chocolate chip and other “drop” cookies. A portion scoop will help you work quickly and consistently (and as any “Great British Baking Show” buff will tell you, uniformity of size will go a long way toward making your cookies look more polished). Its rounded bowl can assist in forming perfectly domed cookies as well. The ideal scoop is comfortable to hold and releases the dough in a single motion.

If you want another way to rapidly churn out perfectly shaped treats, consider a cookie press. It’s definitely one of the more specialized items on this list, but for those who delight in delicately textured, beautifully shaped spritz cookies, it’s a must-have. The tool works just like it sounds, pressing dough out of a cylinder through whatever patterned disc you choose. The best presses create cookies with well-defined shapes that maintain a consistent size. Ease of use and cleanup is equally important.

AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

Ateco 5357 11-Piece Plain Round Cutter Set

Our longtime favorite, these stainless-steel cutters once again won over testers for their crisp, sharp edges and strong, durable metal. The cutters also stood up to multiple washes without warping or rusting.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

OXO Good Grips Large Cookie Scoop

Featuring grippy rubberized handles and an inner spring with just the right amount of resistance, this portion scoop was very comfortable to hold and squeeze. It also dispensed dough with the neatest and most controlled motion out of all the products we tested.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

MARCATO Biscuit Maker

This cookie press produced well-defined cookies with ease, and it produced mostly uniform designs even when the dough was warmed to 75 degrees. This machine’s many moving parts do require a small learning curve, but the payoff — visually appealing cookies with minimal fuss — and the press’s excellent durability are worth it.

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Baking

What’s the point of all that excellent prep equipment if your cookies won’t bake properly? Be sure you put just as much thought into your sheet pans and cookie sheets. Good, sturdy pans are necessary if you want cookies that are evenly baked. Whether you go with a rimmed sheet pan or open-sided cookie sheet is mostly a matter of personal preference. A rim facilitates a secure grip and keeps cookies from sliding off, but a cookie sheet (which may have one or more raised edges as a kind of helper handle) will lead to quicker baking and let you slide finished cookies off if that’s what you want.

Once your cookies are on the pan, you’re at the mercy of your oven. If it runs too hot or not hot enough, you can kiss perfectly baked cookies goodbye. Parking an oven thermometer in there provides the only unequivocal evidence of how your appliance runs. The most important characteristic of a thermometer is accuracy, but if it’s not legible or stable, there’s no point in putting it in the oven.

AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet

Everything prepared in this sturdy, warp-resistant sheet cooked appropriately and evenly. Best of all, our new favorite is a few bucks cheaper than our old winner.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

Vollrath Wear-Ever Cookie Sheet (Natural Finish)

This solid sheet pan is roomy, and raised edges on two sides make it easy to maneuver. Cookies baked evenly, both across the sheet and from top to bottom, and its thick aluminum resists warping. Even without parchment, this sheet released cookies easily.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

CDN Pro Accurate Oven Thermometer

All copies of this model aced our accuracy tests. This thermometer sports a wide, sturdy base and clear temperature markings with large numbers and boldly visible dashes at 50- and 25-degree increments. Its silver face is more prone to glare and light reflection than models with white backgrounds, but it’s still fairly easy to read.

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If your cookies have emerged unscathed so far, give yourself a pat on the back. The last thing you want to do now is drop the lot of them on the floor when your flimsy oven mitts fail to protect you from a hot pan. Good oven mitts (flexible, shaped for easy maneuvering) not only protect you from that initial blast of heat. They also continue to work well over time, letting you hold on to a hot pan or dish for as long as 2 minutes.

Still, you’re not going to stand around holding a pan indefinitely. You’ll need to place it on a cooling rack for at least a few minutes, before using a cookie spatula to move the cookies directly onto the rack to cool completely. Racks with sufficient height ensure air circulation for quick, efficient cooling, and a relatively smooth grid of wires allows you to move spatulas across them without snagging and potentially breaking a cookie. The right size and shape of spatula will let you maneuver under and around cookies that may be spaced close together. It needs to be able to stand up to the heat of a pan that has just come out of the oven. And perhaps most importantly, a cookie spatula has to keep your treats from falling off it, which is why we like the grippy nature of a silicone base.

You may end up decorating cooled cookies directly on the rack set over a rimmed sheet pan, if you’re drizzling icing or melted chocolate. In that case, a rack should fit securely in the pan and clean up easily.

AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

San Jamar Cool Touch Flame Oven Mitt

After 18 rounds of testing, this mitt still came out on top. Made with layers of Nomex and Kevlar for heat protection, this mitt won fans for heat resistance and all-around dependability. What’s more, it emerged from the laundry as good as new. It never let us down.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

Checkered Chef Cooling Rack

Although the grid pattern on this rack is slightly larger than on the other two models, it’s reinforced with an extra support bar that runs perpendicular to the three main bars. It had a touch more wiggle room in the baking sheets, but it kept pace with the other racks during recipe and durability testing.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

OXO Good Grips Silicone Cookie Spatula

This spatula was great for flipping eggs and pancakes, and the flexible silicone head was especially good at gliding in the pan—even navigating rounded sides with ease. The silicone material kept cookies stable during transport, and we liked the generous handle. The spatula’s flexible head was ideal for skillet cooking and an ideal length, though we found it too wide to easily scoop up brownies.

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Decorating and storing

More intricate decorating calls for a piping set. A collection of bags, tips and couplers (the pieces that secure the tips inside the bags) is not very expensive to put together. The small investment is worth it when it comes to, say, the delicate pattern you’ll pipe to create an elegant snowflake cookie or the outline on the edge of a cookie that will be flooded with looser icing to cover the top. Larger bags make filling and handling easier, and tips that are not too big but not too small result in neat lines and shapes. A DIY set will get you exactly what you need, although some preassembled collections come close to having it all.

At this point, all your carefully baked and decorated cookies may have been gobbled up by your friends and family. If not (leftovers are not an urban myth, we checked), you’ll want to pull out a cookie jar. Sure, novelty containers look cute on the counter. They’re rarely the solution, however, for cookies that you want to stay fresh and crisp. What the best jars lack in style, they make up for in practicality, keeping moisture — the enemy of fresh cookies — out for at least a week. A rectangular or cylindrical shape makes reaching in to get a cookie easier.

After you’ve baked that beautiful batch of cookies, we suspect you’ll be reaching in. A lot.

AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

Wilton 20-Piece Beginning Buttercream Decorating Set

This set was almost perfect: It came with five of our essential tips, including a large open star tip for cupcake swirls and rosettes. The plastic bags were easy to handle, effortless to clean up afterward and durable. Most testers agreed that this is a great starter set if you buy a few extra tips to round it out.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

OXO Good Grips Pop Storage Container, Big Square 4 Quart

No other container we tested had an airtight seal (activated by a pop-up button on the lid). We also liked that the clear plastic (BPA-free) jar showed off our baking. The container was easy to clean, but the lid’s nooks and crannies took more effort, and the lid is not dishwasher-safe. We tested the 4-quart model; the container comes in several sizes and shapes.

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AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN RECOMMENDED

Perfect Cookie

This comprehensive anthology includes never-fail recipes and full-page photos for cookie jar classics, in addition to recipes for rich and chewy brownies, fruit-and-crumble-topped bars, quick no-bake confections, holiday favorites, and even candies like fudge and truffles. There are tips and tricks throughout the chapters, as well as an introductory section with insight on everything from what makes a cookie chewy to what baking sheet you should buy.

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About this story

Design and development by Amanda Soto. Illustration by Mary Kate McDevitt for The Washington Post. Photos by Tom McCorkle; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post. Photo editing by Jennifer Beeson Gregory. Product photos courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen.

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