A holiday staple, these tried-and-true sugar cookies are soft, a little chewy, and hold their shape beautifully. Use your favorite cookie cutters and have fun decorating!
As a child, there were few kitchen projects more enticing to me than making cut out cookies–except maybe decorating the cookies.
As an adult, I still feel the same way!
Selecting the cookie cutters and later adding colorful sprinkles is a creative endeavor at any age–and it’s a wonderful way to bring together various generations of family and friends in the kitchen.
The following recipe is sweet (but not too sweet) with characteristic undertones of butter and vanilla. The texture is soft and tender with a touch of chewiness.
Despite their tender appeal, these cookies are sturdy. In other words, they won’t easily crumble when plucked from a cookie platter.
On a recent baking day, Emily compared the art of cutting and decorating cookies to the adult coloring books that have become so popular. Art projects can be soothing and stress relieving, and both these activities offer a perfect mix of following guidelines and letting your imagination soar.
Baking together also reminded us of how traditions–including cookie decorating–vary from family to family. My family always kept the decorations simple–green and red sanding sugars and chopped nuts.
As a kid, the nuts seemed colorless and boring, and I longed for the silver dragées, colorful jimmies, and holiday shapes that were sure to take my cookies to new levels. I also remember gentle yet frequent reminders from my grandmother that “Less is more!”
Think of these sugar cookies as a clean slate upon which you can decorate to your heart’s content. You can be messy or meticulous, use a light touch or a heavy hand.
The glaze is quick and easy, and the optional use of lemon juice will tone down the sweetness. For a light touch, you can keep the glaze fairly thick and pipe it on, or you can spread a layer over the entire surface of the cookie.
If you like the piping idea, special equipment isn’t needed. A simple sandwich-size baggie with a tiny hole snipped from the corner stands in for a pastry bag quite well.
Of course, if you prefer a simple, less sweet treat, the unadorned cookies are delightful. I consider them a perfect match for an afternoon cup of tea.
For this batch, we opted for traditional shapes, but any shape is fair game. I do tend to avoid cutters with lots of sharp corners, as the dough can be more difficult to release from them.
Space the unbaked cookies about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet, as they will puff up and expand in the oven.
You can make a thin glaze to brush on the cookies–you need just enough for the sprinkles to stick. Or make a thicker mixture for piping or frosting. (If you prefer a less sweet cookie, opt for a lighter touch.) Don’t have a piping bag? Use a small, zip-top bag and snip a tiny piece off one of the corners.
Cut Out Sugar Cookies
Yield: about 8 dozen cookies, depending on size of cookie cutter
These classic holiday cookies are perfect for decorating. Use with the powdered sugar glaze or another preferred icing.
2 tablespoons (30ml) milk or cream (I use 2% but any fat content will work)
½ teaspoon vanilla
For the cookies:
Preheat the oven to 375℉.
In a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl with a hand beater, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add half of the flour, all of the sugar, the eggs, baking powder, and vanilla. Beat until thoroughly combined. Stir in the remaining flour.
Divide the dough, forming into several discs, and then wrap in plastic. Chill for at least a few hours or overnight. Roll on a lightly floured surface to about ⅛-inch thickness, and then cut into rounds–or use your favorite cookie cutters.
Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 7-8 minutes. Cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheet, and then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Once cool, top with the glaze and decorate with sprinkles, if desired.
For the glaze:
Stir all the ingredients together until smooth. Add more milk (a teaspoon at a time) until a glaze consistency is achieved.
If you’d like a thicker glaze for icing or piping, you can add less liquid. This glaze will not dry hard like Royal Icing, but will set as it dries.
For a hint of brightness in the glaze, I sometimes replace ½ tablespoon or so of the milk with freshly squeezed lemon juice.