Sugar Cookies | Make Delicious Memories

Cookies are the quintessential holiday treat in many homes—especially sugar cookies. There is something special about making cookies at home because you end up making memories as well. Recently I was looking back at photo albums and was struck by the fact that every year there are pictures of us baking and decorating cookies together as a family. As our children got older, we moved from buttercream icing and sprinkles to royal icing and more elaborate designs.

Even if you feel like sugar cookies are a bit ho-hum or too time-consuming, a few flavor substitutions and frosting options can make them unique and delicious, and the methods can be as quick and simple as a bar or a drop cookie.


Correct measurement is key in baking success. To measure granulated sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder, scoop out with the proper measuring cup or spoon, mound it up, and then use a knife edge to level it off. When measuring flour or confectioners’ sugar, spoon it into the cup, then level it off. Always use a liquid measuring cup for liquids. Place eggs in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes to bring them to room temperature.


Sugar Cookie Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
You can also cut the recipe in half and use a 13-by- 9-inch pan; baking time should be about the same. Makes about 30 bars.

  • 4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Optional for decorating: gel food coloring

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 13-by-18-inch half-sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl using a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on high speed until it’s very lightcolored and fluffy, about two minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla and almond extract and mix well.

With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients into the batter and mix until well combined. Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared pan. Bake at 375 degrees for about 12-16 minutes or until set. The edges should be a light golden brown. Don’t overcook! They will set up as they cool.

Once cooled completely, frost and cut into squares. Store bars in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days and in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4-5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract)

Beat the butter and cream cheese together with a hand or stand mixer until smooth and creamy, then add vanilla and mix.

Add the powdered sugar a little at a time, with the mixer on low speed. Mix well until smooth. You may not need all of the powdered sugar; add enough to make a nice spreading consistency and taste to see if you need more sugar or maybe a little bit more salt. If desired, add sprinkles before the frosting dries. Store bars in an airtight container for up to 2 days or refrigerate up to 5 days.


To elevate the everyday, make lemon rosemary sugar cookies by adding 2 tablespoons of lemon zest to the sugar and work it in with your fingers to release the oils. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice when you add eggs and vanilla. Add 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary along with the dry ingredients. Use lemon extract in the frosting instead of vanilla.

For spiced sugar cookies, add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to the basic recipe.


Chocolate Sugar Cookies
For those who don’t consider anything without chocolate worth calling dessert. Makes 2 dozen cookies.

  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, granulated sugar, and confectioners’ sugar, and mix until just combined.

Add oil, eggs, water and vanilla extract. Mix well.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the mixer bowl. Using a cookie scoop or large spoon, scoop out golf-ball-size portions on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Roll each cookie dough ball until it is smooth and round.

Slightly dampen the bottom of a drinking glass. Dip it in sugar, then press down on each dough ball until the center of the cookie is flatter than the edges. Repeat on all cookies.

Bake for 8-12 minutes or until edges are just slightly starting to brown. It is important to not overbake the cookies. Undercooked is better than overcooked here! You want the cookies to remain soft after they cool, not turn dry and crumbly.

CHOCOLATE FROSTING

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

In a mixing bowl, blend all ingredients using a hand mixer or stand mixer. Spread over cooled cookies.


Make chocolate mint cookies by adding mint extract in place of the vanilla to the chocolate cookies, as well as the frosting.


Rolled and Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen mediumsized cookies, depending on the size of cookie cutters. You can cut the recipe in half, but I wouldn’t recommend doubling it, as it would be too much dough for most mixers.

  • 5 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl using a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on high speed until it’s very light-colored and fluffy, about two minutes.

Add the eggs, vanilla and almond extract. Beat at high speed until well combined, about one minute. Scrape down sides of the bowl and beat again as needed to combine.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on low until well combined. If your mixer came with a plastic shield, you will want to use it, or place a dish towel over the mixer and bowl, as flour seems to fly a bit at first, due to the large batch. The dough will be soft but not sticky. At this point, it is too soft to cut out shapes, but you can roll it out.

Many recipes call for chilling the dough before you roll it out. Unfortunately, the dough is then difficult to work with, and by the time it’s rolled, it’s warm again. This is my favorite way to roll and cut sugar cookies: Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Place each portion on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper or a lightly floured silicone baking mat. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness.

Continue with all 4 portions. Picking the dough up by the parchment or baking mat, stack the rolled out portions of dough on a baking sheet, making sure there is parchment between the layers to prevent sticking. Cover the stack with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to two days.

Once the dough is chilled, preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Carefully remove the top piece of dough from the refrigerator by picking it up by the parchment. Using a cookie cutter, cut the dough into shapes. Arrange cookies on baking sheets three inches apart. Re-roll the remaining dough and continue cutting out shapes until you have used all the dough.

Bake for 11-12 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges, rotating the baking sheets after six minutes to ensure even baking. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before decorating. Decorate the cooled cookies with royal icing, or use your favorite buttercream or cream cheese frosting.


Instead of icing or frosting, dip part of the cookie in melted chocolate. This works well with geometric shapes like circles and stars. Lay the cookies on a rack to dry and sprinkle with crushed peppermint candy or festive sprinkles.


Royal Icing
Royal icing has a reputation for being difficult. Don’t be afraid to try this icing; this one is great for beginners and advanced bakers alike. The results are dependable, it sets up quickly, and has a lovely taste and texture—not dry and grainy like many store-bought types.

  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted after measuring
  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 9 tablespoons room temperature water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Optional for decorating: gel food coloring

In a large bowl using a hand or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, mix ingredients until combined, stopping to scrape down the bowl’s sides. Beat together on high speed for about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir the icing with a spoon and drizzle back into the bowl to test the consistency. A ribbon should remain on the surface for 5–7 seconds. You can beat it another 30 seconds if it’s too thin. If it’s too thick, add a little water; just be careful to add a teaspoon at a time. If it’s still too thin, add a little more sifted confectioners’ sugar.

If desired, separate the icing into bowls and stir in gel food coloring. You can use this icing for both outlining and flooding your cookies (flooding is the step where you fill in the cookie with a base color, giving the cookie a glossy, smooth surface). The outline doesn’t have to be completely dry before you do the flooding. I usually outline all the cookies and then go back and flood them. Draw tight zigzags within the outlined area to fill it in. You can use a toothpick to help the icing fill in spaces on the cookie. If you are layering details on top of the flooding, you will want the cookies to be dry to the touch so the colors won’t bleed. It usually takes about two hours for the icing to be completely dry. While you work, keep a damp paper towel on any icing that you aren’t working with, as it will harden when exposed to air.

You can find cookie decorating supplies at your local craft store or online. Most people use pastry or piping bags, which can be disposable or reusable. You’ll also need decorating tips and couplers to attach to the bag. Instead of piping bags, I like to use plastic squeeze bottles to outline, flood and add details. I find them to be easier to fill and not as messy to use. You can find them online.


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