Friday, December 11, 2009


Just before flying out to London, Adam and I stopped in Wisconsin to have an early Thanksgiving with his uncle and to visit his grandparents’ home one last time before it’s sold. (Adam also lost his grandma earlier this year; his grandpa passed a couple years ago.)

It made me think of how warm and inviting that house was during Christmastime. They lived in a quiet town in good old Northeastern Wisconsin where it’s beautiful in the winter. Christmas guests could count on hot toddies and popcorn balls, and best of all, Grandma Alyce's sugar cookies. She'd make hundreds (yes, literally) of decorated sugar cookie cutouts in the weeks before her Christmas visitors arrived, and then feed half of them to Adam and me for breakfast...

I know. For breakfast. But if a sweet little 86 year old grandma wants to feed me sugar cookies in the early hours of the day, who am I to stop her? Besides, homemade iced sugar cookies dipped in coffee are delicious, I tell you.

This Christmas, Adam's parents and uncle are flying out to visit us and I thought it might be nice to make lots of sugar cookies in preparation for their arrival too. (But by lots, I don’t mean varied lots—I only brought one Christmas tree and one candy cane cookie cutter! Grandma Alyce used like 15 different cutters.) And what better way to feel all warm and Christmas-y than to decorate cookies! I cranked up the Christmas music and made an extra large batch of dough and froze most of it (wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and placed in a freezer-proof ziplock) until the week before everyone arrives. The rest I baked up and decorated for Adam to share at work!

HAHA--I'm sitting here typing and Adam just ran out of the kitchen with a plate of cookies and some milk and yelled OH YEAH like the kool-aid man.

Uh anyway, as for the background to this sugar cookie dough recipe, Mom-in-law gave it to me, which is to say it’s a good one. And you don’t have to limit yourself to decorated cutouts either. You could shape the dough into a log, chill, slice, decorate with colored sanding sugar and bake. Or you could press the cookies into a special pan. Or you could add cranberries and pistachios to the dough and essentially make a new cookie. Or you could press the dough into a tart pan and use it as a base for a fruit tart. Ooooh or you could make cutouts and sandwich chocolate ganache between two cookies and top with sifted powdered sugar... And so on and so forth.

If you do plan to roll out and cookie-cut your dough, let me give you a few pointers. It’s a fairly easy process but if your dough sticks or you have trouble rolling it out evenly, it can be very frustrating. I’ve had plenty of meltdowns before while trying to spread the Christmas cheer.

Make your life easier with a few super-awesome baker’s tools. I like to roll any kind of dough on a Silpat using a silicone rolling pin to prevent sticking. As a bonus, you can also bake the cookies you've rolled out directly on the Siplat. Simply remove the negative dough from the cut cookies (you know what I mean by negative? The excess dough that doesn’t include the cookie shapes?) and slide the Silpat with your cookies directly onto a cookie sheet and bake. Also, check out these cool rubber rings that guide you in your dough-rolling so that you get a correct and even thickness.

Okay—but if you’re short on cash or just don’t want to go through all the hassle of buying excess kitchen gadgets, go old-school and roll out your dough between two pieces of plastic wrap. It works beautifully in preventing sticking. (This method is much more efficient than powdering your work surface and rolling pin, in my opinion.) As far as even dough goes, practice makes perfect. Start from the center of your dough, and push outward with even pressure in every direction, always restarting at your dough round's center. Eyeball it. After a few tries, you'll be able to tell if it's even. And remember, unless you're BFFs with Martha Stewart, no one will notice if your cookies aren't completely level.

Speaking of Martha, she says you should chill your cut cookies for at least 15 minutes before baking… And I believe her. Your cookie dough will spread less and you’ll get more precise cookie shapes (that is, shapes that look more like your cookie cutters) if the butter in your dough is colder.

Try not to fuss too much over cookies that don’t look perfect. Once you ice them and share them, they’ll look delicious and beautiful no matter what. This is supposed to be fun, right? I’ve never given anyone a crooked cookie and gotten any other response than love.

Right then--hop to it! (Yeeeah--you see what I did there? I'm turning all British on you guys.)

Go be a Christmas-cheerasaurus before Christmastime runs out!

Sugar Cookie Dough and Easy Decorator’s Icing
Makes about 5 dozen 2-3 inch cutout cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt

Cream together butter, sugar, egg and extracts with a wooden spoon. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Use your hands if you have to!

Divide dough into 4 even pieces, pat each into a disk and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using.

If making cutouts, work with one piece of dough at a time and roll to 1/8 inch thickness. (Roll even thinner for crisper cookies.) If dough gets too soft, send it back into the fridge for 15 minutes to harden up. This will make the cookies easier to cut and transfer.

Cut dough into 2-3 inch shapes, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for 15 minutes. (Note: you can re-roll your dough scraps but I recommend only doing it once; more than that and the dough starts to get tough. Make sure to re-refrigerate the dough for 20 or so minutes before rolling.) Preheat oven to 375°.

Bake cookies for about 7-8 minutes or until very lightly golden along the edges. Depending on what size cookie you’re baking, cookies may finish slightly earlier or later. Keep an eye on them to prevent browning.

Remove cookies from oven and place on wire racks to cool before icing.

Easy Decorator’s Icing
This stuff is super easy to work with and dries to a hard shine. Drizzle the cookies with the icing, paint the icing onto the cookies or dip the cookies into the icing. (I dipped and drizzled with a spoon, but if I had a paint brush, I would have made all kinds of elaborate designs. It's almost like painting with a thinner version of puff-paint. Have fun with it!) Let the icing dry overnight before stacking for best results.

2 cups powdered sugar
4 teaspoons milk
4 teaspoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract
Food coloring of your choice

Combine sugar and milk and whisk until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until icing is glossy.

Divide icing into different bowls and add food coloring to desired intensity. If icing seems too thick add a few drops of corn syrup. If too thin, add a little more powdered sugar.


kate said...

Oh, sugar cookies. Those definitely remind me of my childhood. Haven't baked 'em in probably 6 or 7 years!

Andrea said...

Kate I remember decorating cookies at those open house Christmas parties your family had! Maybe you and Louie can decorate Christmas cookies together while you babysit him too... or not.

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