I can still remember the first Christmas that my mother finally allowed me to help bake sugar cookies, I was 24. Not really, but I think that is when I finally perfected the recipe. These are a labor of love and truly the best sugar cookies ever.
My maternal grandmother originally found the recipe in Betty Crocker’s 1963 Cooky Book. After much trail and error here is the most perfect way to make them, that maybe Betty knew but didn’t tell us. I recommend reading all of the post before you start. My mother has always been fond of waiting until I am ¾ through a recipe before giving me a crucial detail I have missed with the encouraging words “you already screwed up!”
2 cups sugar
¾ cup butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
2 ½ tbsp. soft butter
¾ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ tbsp half and half
Before you begin assembling the ingredients I recommend letting the butter reach room temperature to make sure it blends evenly. In a real pinch I have put my butter in the microwave for a few seconds but it always ends up half melted and a hot mess.
When you set up your mixer use the “flat beater” (yup that’s what it is called, I looked it up). Dough is more likely to break a whisk, which is just sad times for everyone.
1. Combine sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla in a mixer.
Make sure you only mix until the batter is even. Over beating eggs makes them stiffen and then the resulting dough more difficult to work.
2. In a separate bowl measure and mix dry ingredients, salt, flour and baking POWDER (I cannot tell you how many times I almost used baking soda.)
When measuring flour, use the dipping method. The dipping method is when you use a scoop or spoon to take the flour from its original container and place it into the measuring cup. The scoop acts as a middleman that doesn’t allow the flour to pack down.
3. Incorporate dry mix into the sugar/butter mix.
4. Place batter in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 2-3 hours.
2-3 hours is a minimum. When you are rolling out the dough if it is too warm it sticks to the table and to the rolling pin. So, have some you time, sit back and relax with some eggnog.
I have made dough in advance before and frozen it for a few days. The end result is the same, just take the dough out the night before and pop it in the fridge.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
6. Roll dough to 1/8 inch thick.
Time to roll the dough! Have excess flour to flour the table (or whatever even surface you plan to roll on) and the rolling pin. This helps keep the dough from sticking. Each time I turn the dough over, I make sure there is flour between the dough and the table. This may seem ridiculous but it REALLY helps when you are using old-school cookie cutters.
7. Use floured cookie cutters to create cookie shapes.
I used two different types of cookie cutters this year: ones that were solid plastic with details and others that were just outlines. The ones that are only outlines caused a lot less trouble when cutting, but the detailed ones were ultimately easier to decorate.
8. Place on cookie sheets, preferably on parchment paper.
Baking directly on the cookie sheet will work but the parchment paper makes removing the cookies so much easier.
9. Bake for 4-6 minutes.
You need to keep an eye on these bad boys. You want to take them out the moment before they begin to brown. Too early and they will not be cooked in the center, but too late and you should toss them. You need to be vigilant with these little guys, so if you are still having that eggnog, put it aside until all the cookies are on the cooling rack.
10. Cool cookies on cooling rack.
11. Cover a large flat surface you plan on icing the cookies with wax paper.
Make sure the layers of wax paper overlap, especially if you have a light colored table, food coloring can be difficult to remove. And now back to that eggnog.
12. Lay cookies out evenly on the wax paper.
13. In mixer with whisk combine powdered sugar, cream, vanilla, and butter.
More cream or powdered sugar can be added to achieve the right texture for the icing. I always add food coloring after I remove some of the icing to a smaller bowl. You can add the food coloring directly to the icing in the mixer, but I feel this just makes for tons of dishes….and I hate doing dishes, but hey if you find it relaxing, get after it. Be mindful that as you add food coloring the icing is going to become more liquefied.
14. Get your decoration on!
I use disposable cake piping bags to add detail to my cookies. I find that I use about at least 6 different colors for icing. Disposable bags make changing out colors much quicker and easier.
If it is taking you a lot of time icing, the butter in the icing will begin to melt. No worries! Put that icing bag in the fridge for 10ish minutes and you will be ready to go!
15. Leave cookies out overnight to let the icing harden.
All in all, these cookies are easy to make. It is however time intensive depending on the level of detail you put into icing. I love to hear my friends say, “No way you made these! They are so amazing!!!” So putting in the hours in is worth it to me. Just make sure you look impossibly well rested when you drop them off to complete the ruse. Merry Christmas!