Friday, October 28, 2011

Holiday Sugar Cookies

One of my favorite holiday traditions growing up was making sugar cookies as a family.  I mean any holiday.  We would take any excuse to make, cut, bake, and decorate dozens of delicious sugar cookies.  Although making decorated sugar cookies can be time consuming, it is worth every minute when you step back and admire your creations.  And then you get to eat them.  Okay, I say that as if I don't sneak a few along the way--which I do!

There are a ton of sugar cookie recipes floating around and everyone swears by their own recipe.  The recipe I use is the same recipe we used making cookies as kids.  My mom gave it to me when I left the nest, but I think it is from an old church cookbook.  And like everyone else, I swear by it!  

The dough itself is pretty easy to make and doesn't take long.  I will dedicate this post to making, cutting, and baking these cookies.  The decorating will come in another post. 

To start off, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  I have given up on sifters.  Life's too short to clean them.  So instead I use a fine mesh strainer.  I just shake it back and forth and tap it against my hand.
Then beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 
Add eggs, vanilla, and almond extract.  The almond extract makes these cookies extra yummy!
Then gradually add the dry ingredients until the dough is well combined and smooth.  Don't beat it to death!  The more you handle this dough, the less yummy it will be.
Divide the dough into 2 discs and refrigerate at least one hour until firm.  We always made the dough one day, and baked the cookies the next.  

When you are ready to roll your dough, let it stand at room temperature about 10 minutes to soften slightly.  Lightly flour your work surface.  I like to place the dough between two layers of wax paper to make less of a mess, but it still helps to flour it.  
Roll the dough, one disc at a time, to 1/4 inch thickness.  Dough rolled too thin will result in thin, crunchy cookies.  Dough rolled too thick will be too puffy, and harder to decorate.  When you have rolled out one disc, return it to the refrigerator to cool.  Then roll out the other disc, return it to the refrigerator, and start cutting out of the first disc.  

To cut the dough, first dip cookie cutters in flour to prevent sticking.  Cut shapes as close together as possible, and transfer cookies to a parchment-lined baking sheet. 
Using parchment paper instead of baking spray is not only less messy, but the baking spray can cause your cookies to be flat. 
Take the remaining scraps and form them into a ball.  Flatten with your hands, then roll as you did with the original discs.  Cut more cookies!  If you have to roll out the scraps more than twice, I say just eat them!  Not only is this cookie dough delicious, but dough that is rolled too many times becomes tough.

When you have a baking sheet ready to go, place in preheated 325 degree oven and bake for 17-19 minutes, or until the edges are just turning golden.  I recommend rotating the cookies halfway through the baking time to ensure they are cooked evenly.  It is really important not to over bake sugar cookies.  Over baked cookies loose their moisture become hard and crunchy.  Allow the cookies to cool completely before decorating.

Holiday Sugar Cookies
2 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup butter (room temperature)
Sift together and reserve flour, salt, and  baking powder.  
Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, vanilla, and almond, beat to combine.
Gradually add flour mixture and mix until smooth.  Divide dough into two disks.
Chill dough one hour, or until firm.
Lightly flour work surface and roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness, adding flour as needed to prevent stickiness.  Cut cookies and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet. 
Bake at 325 degrees for 17-19 minutes, or until edges are just turning golden.  Allow to cool completely before decorating.
This recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies, depending on size of cookies.

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