Sunday, December 13, 2009

the best sugar cookies

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! The decorations are out. The presents are mostly wrapped. Holiday music is playing everywhere (including my living room at the moment!). Our holiday work party last night was filled with fancy dresses and suits, a crazy amount of interesting food (highlights: Peruvian purple potatoes mashed with fixings on Himalayan rock salt, fried mac and cheese balls), flowing drinks and conversation, and dancing. But there's one thing I haven't yet done that's making the holiday season somehow not quite complete - baked. It's time to fix that!

The following recipe is one of my holiday staples. Perfect, buttery sugar cookies. The source is Mary Engelbreit's Cookies Cookbook, which I've had since college (and now that I think about it, might actually be the very first cookbook I ever purchased!).

My modifications to the original recipe are minor. Whereas the original recipe calls for rolling the dough to 1/8" thick (and the picture that accompanies it is of thin, delicate cookies), I like my sugar cookies to be a bit heftier, so roll the dough about 1/4" thick. The recipe also calls for sprinkling the cookies with colored sugar before baking. My preference is for frosted sugar cookies. These modifications (and my frosting recipe) are reflected below.

The Best Sugar Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. milk
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
colored sprinkles

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl with an electric mixer or a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. Gradually beat in the flour mixture.

Divide the dough into thirds, shape each piece into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough 1/4" thick. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place 2" apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. At this point, you can decorate with colored sugar and sprinkles, if desired (or leave plain if your intent is to decorate first with frosting, which is the approach I've taken).

Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

To make frosting, mix the butter, milk, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add more milk/powdered sugar as needed until frosting reaches desired consistency. (Only add very small amounts of milk at a time - a little goes a long way in changing the consistency of the frosting.) More powdered sugar will make for a stiffer frosting that can be piped via a ziplock bag with the corner snipped, more milk will make the frosting glaze-like. I typically start with a stiffer frosting and then when I'm running out of frosting or decorating patience, add a bit more milk to make it glaze-like, which is a little speedier to decorate cookies with.

Once cookies have cooled completely, decorate with frosting and colored sprinkles.

Plates of these cookies will be accompanying me to work tomorrow to share with the team (perhaps Romeo the Reindeer will even make an appearance). Spreading joy through sugar. My holiday season is complete!


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