Every year, my mom would make sugar cookies, and all our little hands would help cut out the stars, Santas, stockings, trees and bells then we would eat half of them as we worked to cover them in glazes of pale pink and green. Why pink? Well, mom never bothered to put enough red food coloring in to make the glaze dark. (I always thought she probably figured that in the time it took to make a glaze red, we would probably eat all the cookies, but she says it was because of the terrible taste of red food coloring back then.) Besides, I don’t think that any of her five girls ever complained about having pink cookies for Christmas. Even now, if Christmas Eve arrives without any cookies, some sister will be hinting that there’s still time to mix up the dough.
You can use whatever cookie recipe you like best, but here’s the one my mom makes every year:
Sugar Cookie Cutouts (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
2/3 cup butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
Cream butter and sugar. Add baking powder and salt. Add egg, milk and vanilla. Beat well. Add flour a little at a time until combined. Divide dough in half and chill.
On floured surface, roll dough to desired thickness. (We generally go pretty thin.) Cut into shapes. Bake at 375 for 7-8 minutes until very lightly browned on bottom. Cool on wire rack. Decorate as desired.
I’ve always used that recipe as well, but this year, I adapted one from Bake at 350…it’s now my favorite sugar cookie recipe. Sorry, Mom. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it:
3 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 c sugar
2 sticks (salted) butter, cold
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350.
Combine the flour and baking powder, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts and mix. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom.
The dough will be crumbly, so knead it together with your hands as you scoop it out of the bowl for rolling.
Roll onto a floured surface and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets (Freeze the cutout shape on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before baking) and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let sit a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.
Now for the fun part….Okay, cutting out the cookies was fun, too….
You can either use a simple glaze made up of half and half, powdered sugar and vanilla….which you pretty much do to taste. Just stir it together until there are no lumps and add the colors you want then drizzle over cookies. You can cover the cookie entirely or just drizzle here and there. Right before it is set, you can add sprinkles if you like. Tip: It helps to put the wire rack on a cookie sheet (with an edge) to catch the drippings.
You can up the sugar ante with buttercream icing. You can make it or buy it, pipe it or spread it…whatever you like… just be sure you have the sprinkles ready!
Go all out with royal icing….it’s beautiful and can’t be beat for looks. I also like the crunch it adds on top of a soft and chewy cookie. This is the route we took this year. Bake at 350 has a great recipe, as well as great tips for decorating with royal icing. Check it out and print it out!…And, if you use royal icing, roll the cookies a little thicker than you might otherwise…the chewiness of the cookies and the crunchiness of the icing are a perfect pair.
Personally, while we all love the occasional iced sugar cookie, complete with sprinkles, deep down my sisters all really like the simple goodness of the glazed cookies best…AND they’re easier! Actually, we also just like them plain and warm and straight from the oven so give that a try, too.
And don’t save these cookies just for Santa…this photo shows how my daughter and I used the glaze to make some colorful and delicious cookies for Thanksgiving one year.
Happy holiday baking, everybody!
P.S. I almost forgot to remind you that you can always take the easier way out and buy the sugar cookie dough…if you work in enough flour as you roll the cookies out, they really do taste homemade!