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Decorated Sugar Cookies

December 9, 2009

My obsessive attention to detail is rarely useful– it usually gets in the way and makes other people angry.  Like when I ask for Nate’s help in the kitchen and then I tell him he’s doing it wrong. 

But when it comes to decorating Christmas cookies, well, that’s another story.  I can be as obsessive as I want and no harm is done.  It gives me the warm fuzzies to hear exclamations like “This gingerbread man has a belt and pants!”  

Am I nuts?  Perhaps. 

I get so wrapped up in decorating, it takes me about 2 hours to decorate 4 sheets of cookies.  It’s actually kind of absurd, when you think about it.  But I love sitting inside on a snowy day (and it was actually snowing on Saturday!), listening to Christmas music and hovering over trays of cookies for hours and hours. 

I struggled for a good 30 minutes trying to decide what sugar cookie recipe to use.  I didn’t want something that would spread in the oven, creating a smiling blobs instead of a snowmen.  I ultimately settled upon a recipe that contained only flour, sugar, butter, vanilla extract and cream cheese.  The dough kept sticking to the counter, so I eventually rolled it out between two sheets of wax paper.  It was also important (I found out after the fact) to bake these cookies until they are just done, otherwise they’re a bit to crunchy and cardboard-esque. When baked just right, they are light, moist and the perfect vessel for sugary toppings.

Butter Cookies

(Adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

What is the difference between sugar cookies and butter cookies?  I will never know.

2.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter , ( 2 sticks) cut into sixteen 1/2-inch pieces, at cool room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cream cheese , at room temperature

In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With mixer running on low, add butter 1 piece at a time; continue to mix until mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, about 1 minute longer. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix on low until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds.

Remove bowl from mixer; knead dough by hand in bowl for 2 to 3 turns to form large cohesive mass. Turn out dough onto countertop; divide in half, pat into two 4-inch disks, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate until they begin to firm up, 20 to 30 minutes. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 weeks; defrost in refrigerator before using.)

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out 1 dough disk to even 1/8-inch thickness between 2 large sheets parchment paper.  Cut into desired shapes using cookie cutter(s) and place shapes on parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until light golden brown (I would recommend baking them until they are just done and not letting them get very brown), about 10 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Repeat with second portion of rolled dough. (Dough scraps can be patted together, chilled, and re-rolled once.) Cool cookies on wire rack to room temperature

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Cindy permalink
    December 21, 2009 9:51 am

    Learned (and tried!) from Alton Brown that you can use powdered sugar to help sweets from not sticking when rolling, instead of flour. Really helped my sugar cookies retain their flavor and not dry out too much. Plus, my grandmother’s “peanut butter pinwheel” recipe (powdered sugar, butter, vanilla rolled up with P.B.) will be better than ever this year with that trick!

    • December 21, 2009 10:22 am

      Oh, Alton Brown. That man in a food encyclopedia! I made his chocolate chip cookies this weekend and they were probably some of the best I’ve ever made. I’m thinking about making more sugar cookies today, so I’ll have to give the powdered sugar technique a try!

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