Pinwheel cookies are a simple upgrade on a classic sugar cookie, perfect for the home baker who wants to bake beautiful sugar cookies but doesn't have the time (or desire) to decorate two-dozen cookies with royal icing. The premise is simple: Mix up your favorite sugar cookie dough, divide that dough into two, color and flavor one of the doughs, roll them out, roll them together, slice, and bake. The hardest part of baking pinwheel cookies is deciding how to color and flavor the dough and rolling the two doughs together, but there are a few tricks to make both easier.
How to Upgrade a Basic Sugar Cookie Dough
Sugar cookie dough is pretty straightforward. Cream together butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla, and finish with some flour and salt. The genius of a pinwheel cookie is simply dividing this dough into two parts and flavoring one. Extracts and food coloring can just be folded into the dough (as is the case with our peppermint pinwheels), but for additions like chocolate or gingerbread spices, the dough may need an ingredient enhancement. Here are a few flavoring ideas, plus their ingredient upgrades.
- Extracts: Peppermint, lemon, lavender, or almond extract can simply be stirred into the dough. Adding a few drops of food coloring to correspond with the flavoring distinguishes the two layers and is required for the pinwheel effect.
- Cocoa or chocolate: Chocolate in any form is drying to a cookie dough, so we add an extra egg yolk to the chocolate portion to keep the dough supple and prevent cracking while rolling and cutting.
- Gingerbread: Adding molasses to one half of the dough will give the dough enough moisture to take on a considerable amount of spice and give the dough a rich caramel hue.
How To Create a Pinwheel Design
Once you've got your two dough portions mixed, it's easiest to roll these doughs out while they're still soft, before chilling. Once chilled, divide the doughs in half again. These smaller portions make stacking and rolling the dough easier (no long rolls to wrestle) and give you the option of alternating the design of the pinwheel. Stack one dough on top of the other. The bottom layer of dough will be the outside of the pinwheel. Working along the longest edge of the doughs, roll the dough into a tight pinwheel. Take your time to avoid gaps in between the rolls. The step-by-step pictures here will help walk you through the process.
Tip: Avoid a flat side to your pinwheels by turning the dough logs a quarter turn in between slices while cutting the cookies.
How to Freeze Pinwheel Cookies for Later
Once you have the dough rolled into pinwheels, you have two options: chilling again briefly before baking, or stashing the dough in the freezer for long-term keeping. Wrap the parchment-wrapped logs of cookie dough in plastic wrap and freeze until solid, about 3 hours. Be sure to label and date the cookies with their baking temperature and time, and remove the cookie dough from the freezer for 15 minutes before slicing and baking.
How To Make Pinwheel Sugar Cookies
What You Need
2 1/4 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled (see note below)
3 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 large egg yolk
Measuring cups and spoons
Stand mixer with paddle attachment
Knife or pizza cutter
Offset spatula or butter knife
- Whisk the flour and salt together: Whisk the flour and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
- Cream the butter and sugar: Place the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Beat on medium speed until fluffy and lightened in color, about 3 minutes.
- Add the egg and vanilla: Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the whole egg and vanilla, return the mixer to medium speed, and beat until well-combined, about 1 minute.
- Add the flour mixture: Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl again. Add the flour mixture, turn the mixer to low speed, and mix until just incorporated, about 30 seconds.
- Divide the dough: Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the cookie batter a few stirs by hand, scraping the bottom of the bowl, to ensure that all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated. Place half of the dough on a piece of parchment paper; set aside.
- Flavor half the dough: Fit the bowl with the remaining dough back onto the mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the melted chocolate, cocoa powder, and egg yolk and mix until just incorporated, about 2 minutes.
- Roll out the doughs and chill: Place the chocolate dough on a piece of parchment. Cover with a second piece of parchment and roll the dough into a 12x6-inch rectangle that's about 1/4-inch thick. Keeping the dough sandwiched in the parchment, transfer it to a baking sheet and refrigerate. Cover the reserved vanilla dough with parchment and repeat rolling it out into a second rectangle. Stack this dough on top of the chocolate dough in the refrigerator. Refrigerate until cool but pliable enough to roll, 25 to 30 minutes.
Divide the dough again: Remove both doughs from the refrigerator and remove the top piece of parchment from each. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut each dough in half crosswise to create 4 (6x6-inch) squares of dough total. You should have 4 squares of dough: 2 chocolate and 2 vanilla.
Stack a square of vanilla and a square of chocolate dough together, lining them up as precisely as possible. Keep in mind that whichever dough is on the bottom of the stack will be the outside of the pinwheel. Roll the stacked square into a 6x8-inch rectangle.
Make pinwheel logs and chill: Starting from a long end, roll the rectangle of dough tightly up into a log. The first roll might feel awkward, but you can use an offset spatula or butter knife to tuck the edge under and create a tight seal. Use one hand to guide the dough into a roll while pulling up with the parchment paper underneath to create a tight roll. Wrap the pinwheel log in parchment paper. Repeat stacking and rolling the remaining 2 squares of dough to make a second pinwheel log. Refrigerate both logs for 1 hour.
- Heat the oven and line baking sheets: Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
- Cut the dough logs: Remove 1 pinwheel dough log from the refrigerator, unwrap, and slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Turn the log a quarter turn every three or four cuts to prevent a flat side. Place 12 rounds on each baking sheet, spacing them at least 1 inch apart.
- Bake the cookies: Bake the cookies for 7 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets between racks and from front to back. Bake until the cookies are just set in the center (they will not brown), 5 to 6 minutes more. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Let the baking sheets cool (you can use the same parchment), then repeat with cutting and baking the remaining dough log.
- Melting the chocolate: Finely chop the chocolate and microwave for 1 minute. Some pieces of chocolate might not be completely melted. Give the chocolate a stir to melt the remaining pieces, then set aside.
- Storage: The baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
- Freezing the dough: Wrap the parchment-wrapped logs of cookie dough in plastic wrap and freeze until solid, about 3 hours. Be sure to label and date the cookies with their baking temperature and time.
- Baking from frozen: Remove the cookie logs from the freezer for 15 minutes before slicing and baking.