Let’s be honest: I don’t get particularly excited when I hear “sugar cookies,” mostly because there are so many other flavors and types of cookies I could be eating instead. But then, every once in a while, I bite into a good one, or I get an urge to make some cookie shapes, and sugar cookies are excellent on both of these accounts. Unlike many other types of cookies, which rely on flavor-packed ingredients like chocolate, molasses, and dried fruit to make them what they are, sugar cookies have relatively few ingredients, and no particular star ingredients. They’re like the pound cakes of the cookie world: if you want good sugar cookies, you have to use good, solid ingredients. Otherwise, you’ll get a mediocre cookie, and wish you were eating a chocolate chip cookie instead. So, get the best butter and flour you can, for sure, and get other good stuff as you can.
Unlike pound cake, however, sugar cookies don’t require a long mixing time or baking time. They do require a stint in the fridge to firm up, and if you want shapes, you have to do a little rolling and cutting. But you can easily just make rounds out of shaped logs, and no matter what, they’ll still taste good. (Believe me – this is my mantra with anything shaped, and I’ve had some uuuuuuugly shaped confections, my friends. You won’t see those on Instagram, but they exist.)
Today’s picture is brought to you by my new heart-shaped cookie cutters, icing made with raspberry liqueur (Chambord, if you’re getting the fancy stuff), and my great love of stupid Valentine’s Day decor and sweets. Don’t worry; I only love V-Day for selfish reasons: my birthday is only a few days before February 14, so seeing pink and red wrappers and balloons in stores always reminds me (happily) that I’m getting another year recorded on this planet. That being said, you can shape these however your little heart desires. You could even make a mega cookie in one pan! (And if you do so, send me a picture of it.)
How do you get good shapes, you ask? Make sure your dough is cold. Don’t skimp on this. If your dough isn’t firm enough when you roll it out to make you break into a little sweat, it’s not firm enough – it should be slightly difficult to do! If the dough starts to warm up as you work with it, put it back in the fridge and do the rest of the shapes in another batch. Trust me – if you use warm dough, you’ll end up with that ugly mega-cookie, no matter what shapes you use. But if I can find the patience to make dumb shapes, so can you!
Let’s make cookies!
Basic Sugar Cookies
You will need:
- 1 c (2 sticks) salted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 c white sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 3/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Basic Icing (recipe follows), coarse sugar, etc. for decorating (optional)
- Whisk together the dry ingredients – flour, baking soda, and salt – in a medium bowl, and set aside.
- Cream the butter using a stand or hand mixer, or even a wooden spoon, for 1 minute until light and fluffy. Add in sugar, and cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and fully incorporated, about 1-2 minutes more. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until fully incorporated, light, and fluffy (yep, three times), about 2-3 minutes more.
- Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture using a wooden spoon (or a low setting on a stand mixer – don’t use the hand mixer for this part), just until a wet-sand dough forms. If you are making simple cookie rounds, divide the dough into two portions, and form them into logs about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll in coarse sugar, if desired. If you are planning to roll out the dough and cut shapes, form two flat disks about 1 inch thick. Either way, wrap the shaped dough in parchment paper, and refrigerate until firm, about 1-2 hours or overnight. (You can also streamline this cooling in the freezer for about 20 minutes, although you do risk uneven cooling this way. You’ve been warned.)
- For simple rounds: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Remove the cookie logs from the fridge. Using a sharp chef’s knife or a pastry scraper, cut the log into 1/4-1/2 inch rounds (depending on how thick you want them – thicker cookies will be more chewy and may take a bit longer to bake), turning the logs as necessary to prevent a flat bottom. Place rounds on an ungreased cookie sheet at least 2 inches apart (if you overcrowd them, they will melt into each other. Melllllllllt!), and bake until the edges just start to brown, about 5-7 minutes. They will still be quite soft when you remove them, but will continue to set on the cookie sheet as they cool. Cool in the pans set on cooling racks for 2-3 minutes, then remove cookies from the sheets to the wire racks to cool completely, about 10 minutes. Decorate as desired.
- For shaped cookies: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Working with one cookie disk at a time, remove the dough from the fridge, and lightly flour a clean countertop or work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out the disk to about 1/8 inch thick (yes, the dough may be ugly and cracked on the edges. This is fine – you’re going to cut into it, anyway), turning and flipping and re-flouring the dough to prevent sticking and ensure even thickness. Cut the dough with desired cutter shape, dipping the cutter in flour as necessary to prevent sticking to the dough. Re-roll and cut remaining dough scraps as necessary, but make sure your dough stays cold. Place cookie shapes onto prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart, and bake at 375 degrees F for 5-7 minutes until edges are light brown and centers are set. Cool on sheets on wire racks for 2-3 minutes, then remove cookies from sheets and cool on racks until completely cooled, about 10 minutes. Decorate as desired.
You will need:
- 1 c sifted powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp Chambord or raspberry liqueur (or really, any flavored liqueur you want)
- 1/2 tsp corn syrup (optional)
- 1/2-1 tbsp water
- In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, corn syrup, and liqueur until fully combined and no dry spots of sugar remain. Add water, 1/2 tbsp at a time, until the desired consistency is reached (the more water you add, the looser the icing will be). Corn syrup adds some structure and hardening power to the icing, but is entirely optional. Use as desired to decorate cookies.