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holiday cookies
hoto: michaels cookie jar on Flickr

Sugar, flour, butter. Put them all together and what have you got? The same thing that you always get this time of year — cookies. With an estimated 200 million cookies being baked this season, it makes you wonder if they’re all doomed to get eaten. Fortunately, I’d like to think that we can’t possibly eat that many cookies, but if that’s the case, what becomes of all the cookies?

If there are leftovers this year, when it comes to the post-holiday clean-up, do you toss ’em or stash ’em away for a rainy day? Before you decide to stockpile those extra treats to ride out the holiday cheer, perhaps you should ask yourself, do they ever go bad?

Do holiday cookies go bad?
Perhaps you’ll get a better picture of cookie shelf life with some background on the individual ingredients.

Flour
On its own, flour — more specifically all-purpose flour — is quite stable when it comes to storage. The same cannot be said of whole wheat flour, as it contains the oily portion of the wheat husk known as the germ. Wheat germ oil, much like the oils of nuts such as pecans and walnuts, tend to go rancid rather quickly if left at room temperature. As a solution, I suggest using only all-purpose flour for your next batch of sugar cookies — not only will they taste better, but you will also be able to enjoy them longer. Staleness is generally the standard complaint when it comes to flour, though flour effectiveness is also a concern. Over time, flour loses its leavening ability, so try to replace any unused flour every 8 months or so.

Sugar
You may think that sugar, white or brown, might be the most perishable component of almost every cookie, but you’d be wrong. On its own, sugar stands the test of time in the pantry —anywhere from 4 months to 3 years — unless it’s exposed to moisture, or worse yet, pests like ants and other kitchen critters. If and when that happens, be sure to restock your sugar stash before attempting any baking.

Eggs & Butter
Eggs and butter are by far the most time-sensitive ingredients when it comes to your yearly bake-off. While butter will last roughly 2 to 3 months when refrigerated, (2 months for unsalted, 3 months for salted, due to the preservative effect salt has on the mixture), eggs, on average, only last for about 3 to 5 weeks. With this in mind, you may want to consider keeping your leftover cookies in the fridge once they’ve been baked. They may not taste nearly as delicious as fresh ones, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.


Read the previous installment of Food Scientist on Food Republic.