Unless you count the last two years that I spent in Europe, my sister and I have an annual Christmas sugar cookie baking tradition, where we find ourselves up until the wee hours attempting to finish decorating the seemingly infinite number of cookies. Now that I am back in Canada, I am just waiting for December 1st to hit so that my sister and I can get back into this tradition. Waiting until December is absolutely necessary, as I have a rule: NO CHRISTMASSY THINGS BEFORE DECEMBER. Those of you who know me well are probably aware of my reaction when I see Christmas lights that are turned on in October (or even worse, February.) I know my Christmas light rage might sound a bit Grinchy, but far from it. I think my light-up Christmas sweater, Christmas-ball earrings, and Christmas outfit for my cat are just a few indications that I am definitely not a Grinch. I just feel that containing Christmas to a shorter period of time makes it feel more special.
I wanted to create a new recipe for this year’s sugar cookies, but didn’t want to waste precious Christmas baking time in December trying to optimize a recipe. So, despite my rule, I got started a little early this year. Don’t worry, I made sure my cookies didn’t look too Christmassy, but once December hits, I’m going all out.
Here is the cookie recipe. (Note: I have ingredients listed in both cups and grams. Click here to see my post on weight vs. volume.)
1 cup unsalted butter (225 g)*
1 ½ cup sugar (300 g)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3 ¾ cup all purpose flour (525 g)*
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
*I used European style cultured butter because I got used to using this type of butter while I lived in France. I find it has a smoother texture and a nicer taste, but any type of butter will do. Do not use margarine as a replacement. You could get away with it, but the cookies just wouldn’t taste right.
I used Robin Hood Unbleached all purpose flour. Canadian flour typically has a higher protein content than most European all purpose flour so it will result in a different texture. Experiment with different types of flour to suit your taste. The lower the protein content of your flour, the more tender your cookie.
Cream together butter (at room temperature), vanilla and sugar.
Once combined, beat in eggs, one at a time.
Sift together remaining ingredients and slowly add to butter/egg mixture. Mix until completely uniform (mixing properly is important, I will explain why shortly.) It should look like the dough in this picture (i.e. no wet or dry patches.)
Separate the dough into two balls, wrap in plastic and store in the fridge overnight (or up to 3 days.) Do not skip this step if you want a nice textured cookie. As you can see, I flattened the dough before I put it in the fridge. This isn’t necessary but makes it easier when it comes time to rolling out the dough.
After allowing your cookie dough to rest in the fridge sufficiently, take it out of the fridge and let it warm up a little for 10-15 minutes.
Roll the dough between two sheets of wax or parchment paper to desired thickeness (3-5 mm.) I prefer thicker cookies (5 mm thickness) because they have a nice cake-like texture. Rolling cookies thinner will result in a more crisp cookie, but also a nicer looking cookie, in my opinion. It is all personal preference so find out what works best for you.
Cut out cookies with desired shapes and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper if you are worried about sticking. Bake at 400 degress F (205 C) for 6-8 minutes or until golden around edges. Rotate the tray after 6 minutes for even colour. Allow cookies to cool completely before decorating.
Preventing Lumpy Cookies
You may prefer to dust your surface and rolling pin with flour rather than using wax paper. This is fine, but beware. Adding too much flour can result in a puffy or lumpy cookie. I rolled a few cookies with flour instead of wax paper and purposely added too much flour to show what can happen. See how this cookie doesn’t have a smooth shape? It looked perfectly smooth before I put it in the oven.
The lumpiness of this cookie is due to the flour not being distributed evenly throughout the dough. This results in some areas of the dough having more structural integrity than other areas. During baking, when the cookie begins to rise, some areas will have a tougher structure and not rise as easily as other areas , resulting in a cookie that isn’t smooth. This is also why you need to ensure that your dough is mixed properly (with no dry or wet patches in the dough.)
Letting the dough rest in the fridge overnight also helps give the cookie a better texture. This is because it allows for diffusion to occur. That is, it gives a chance for the liquid molecules to spread evenly through the dry ingredients. Not only that, the cold temperature hardens up the dough, making it less tempting to add flour while rolling. If you find yourself tempted to add more flour because your dough is sticking, just pop it in the fridge for 10 minutes and it should be easier to handle.
Decorating Sugar Cookies
In my opinion, sugar cookies are nothing without icing, but if you aren’t a huge fan of icing, you can always add something else to give the cookies a bit of extra flavour. Sprinkle the cookies with sugar before baking, or drizzle with chocolate after they come out of the oven. When it comes to icing, I think buttercream icing tastes best but royal icing looks best. Royal icing can make cookies look really fancy and smooth, but unfortunately doesn’t taste quite as nice. Despite this, these ones I made with royal icing still taste pretty good.
I will provide the recipe for the royal icing + some decorating ideas and techniques soon! Keep reading 🙂 [Update: The royal icing recipe can be found here]