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Sugar Cookies * coloring dough * rolling out and cutting cookie dough * coloring sugar
- 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 c. butter
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- food coloring (optional)
- cinnamon candies (optional)
- sparkle sugar (optional)
Mix dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar, then add egg and vanilla and blend well. Add a generous squirt of food coloring to the butter mixture and blend it in well. It should be really green (or whatever color). Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Divide dough, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least half an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 F and grease two cookie sheets. Roll out chilled dough on a lightly floured surface and cut into shapes. Place on cookie sheets and decorate with sparkle sugar and cinnamon candies (if desired). Bake for 9-11 minutes. Makes about two dozen.
The butter mixture with food coloring (left), the dough after flour is mixed in (middle), and the dough wrapped up to put in the fridge (right):
The dough before and after baking (left), showing the difference in color; cookies rolled too thin, where the red hots have melted from touching the pan (middle); and cookies showing increasing evidence of wrinkling, caused by putting the dough on a pan that has not cooled completely:
All done! (These were actually a little overbaked because I rolled them too thin):
Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make sugar cookies! This is hands down the best sugar cookie recipe I’ve tried, and my family has made it for many, many years. We call them holly cookies because we use food coloring to dye the dough green, then cut them out in holly leaf shapes and decorate the tops with green crystal sugar and cinnamon candies like holly berries. I’ve included all the steps to make holly cookies, but if you don’t have a cookie cutter shaped like a holly leaf, you can use any shapes you like or just cut them out round.
For this recipe, you’ll need a large mixing bowl, a medium mixing bowl, a surface where you can roll out the dough and something to roll the dough out with, and at least one cookie cutter in a shape you like.
If you want to make holly cookies the way I do, you’ll also need some cinnamon candies, and that can be a problem. These are the small round pieces of red candy that are cinnamon flavored, usually called cinnamon imperials or red hots. You can get them specifically for baking, but those are actually not very good for this recipe. The best red hots you can find are sold by Brach’s, but they can be hard to track down. I was going to order them online this year and actually went to the Brach’s website to find them, but when I followed their link to buy, it took me to an Amazon page that said they were sold out. In the end, I lucked out and found them in a small grocery store I almost never go to. Brach’s are better than the ones sold for baking because they’re much cheaper, but also because they’re flattened instead of round. Those big round baking ones tend to just melt into goo in the oven. But you can use any kind you can get your hands on, or, of course, you can leave them out. But they do really contribute to the overall flavor of the cookie.
A few hours before you start the recipe, it’s a good idea to get the butter out of the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature. You can do the same with the eggs too. If you forget, though, no problem.
These cookies follow the same basic method for most cookies, including the chocolate chip cookie recipe from our very first episode. If you haven’t listened to that one, you might go back and do so for basics about measuring flour and mixing dough.
First, grease your baking sheets and set them aside. I use a little butter to grease the pans, since I have a theory that greasing the pan with the same fat you used in the recipe gives better results, plus I already have the butter out. When you unwrap the butter, especially if it’s at room temperature, there’s often some left on the paper wrapping. I put the wrapper face down on the pan and rub it around as an easy way to grease the pan.
It’s best to use two pans minimum for this recipe. It should make just enough to fill both pans, and with two you can be working on the second batch while the first is in the oven. I’ll go over some more considerations about pans later on, though.
In the medium mixing bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt, then set it aside. Then in the large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until the two ingredients are fully combined and the butter is smooth and has an almost fluffy texture, but gritty because it’s full of sugar. Then you’ll add the egg and vanilla and mix it again until everything is blended well and the mixture is creamy again.
Next you need the food coloring, because you get a more consistent color throughout the dough if you add the food coloring to the butter and sugar mixture before you add the flour mixture. Decide what color you want, and I recommend you don’t go for anything fancy that requires a certain ratio of one color to another. Let’s assume you’re making holly cookies, or Christmas tree cookies, or something else that requires only one color. Take the little plastic squeezy bottle of food coloring and give it one solid squeeze into the butter mixture. You’re not counting drops, you want a full squeeze of the bottle to go in. This is probably at least ten drops, probably more like 12 or even 15. Mix it in well. The mixture should be quite bright at this point. If it’s barely colored or very pale, add more food coloring.
Once the color is blended in, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Remember to add only part of the flour first, mix it in well, then add another part of it, mix it in well, and then add the rest of it. The dough will be fairly stiff but not impossible to mix with just a big spoon. You’ll note that once you have the flour mixed in, the dough is much less brightly colored. It will fade even more in the oven, which is why you want to use quite a bit to start with.
Before you can roll the dough out, though, you need to chill it. Sugar cookies are largely made of butter, and the butter is much easier to work with once it’s hardened in the fridge. Divide the dough into two lumps and put one lump each on a piece of plastic wrap. Place another piece of plastic wrap over it and press it down gently from the center to the sides, flattening it. You don’t have to make it super thin, but it will cool more quickly if it’s a disc shape and not a ball. Then wrap the plastic over the edges and put both discs in the fridge for at least half an hour.
You can keep the dough in the fridge for a couple of days if necessary, so you can prepare the dough ahead of time and roll it out to bake the cookies just before friends or relatives arrive, for instance, or when you have more time to cook.
Rolling out cookie dough is similar to rolling out pie pastry, but the cookies need to be thicker than pastry (but not as thick as biscuits). You also need to work quickly since your dough will start warming up immediately, and use as little flour as you can manage. You shouldn’t need to use much flour, just a thin layer on the surface you’re using to roll out and a little on the rolling pin so it won’t stick. I typically flour my surface and put a little pile of extra flour to one side. I place the palm of my hand in that extra flour and rub it on the rolling pin as needed. Roll the dough out so that it’s maybe a quarter of an inch thick, maybe a little thinner. Remember to work from the middle of the lump of dough out to the edges.
When you have the dough to the right thickness, it’s time to cut out shapes. The best cookie cutters are made of metal. The plastic ones are just too thick and dull to get a good cut. Press straight down without jiggling the cutter, then pull it straight back up. Sometimes the cookie will come up with the cutter, but usually not. If it does, just shake the cookie out onto your hand gently and place it on the greased pan.
Quite often the cookies will stick to the surface despite the flour, and it’s easiest to use a spatula to get them up. If you’ve worked fast enough, the cookies will still be cool at this point and they shouldn’t deform too much when you shove the spatula under them. The warmer the dough, the stickier it gets and the more pliable it is, resulting in misshapen cookies. If your dough gets too warm to work with, resulting in floppy cookies that stick to the cookie cutter as well as everything else, it’s easier to mush the dough back into a disc, wrap it up again, and put it back in the fridge to cool properly. I’ve tried to work with overly warm cookie dough and it’s nothing but frustration, while nicely chilled cookie dough is easy to work with.
Anyway, place the cookies on the baking sheet so that they’re close together but not touching. You’ll still have lots of dough left, so just ball it up and roll it out again if it’s not too warm. If it is too warm, put it back in the fridge and get the other half of the dough out. (That’s why you divide the dough.)
While your raw cookies are in the pan waiting to be decorated and then baked, remember to set the pan somewhere other than on the stove. You don’t want them to get too hot or they won’t look as pretty when they bake. If you don’t have anywhere but the stove to set the pan, at least balance it on top of a pot to raise it off of the stove and let air circulate underneath. This will help keep the cookies cooler.
Finally, you have the cookie sheet filled with cut-out cookies. Now you get to decorate them! You can get as fancy as you like or you can just put them in the oven as is. If you want to make holly cookies, place two or three red hots near the stem end of the holly leaf, or what you interpret as the stem end, to look like berries. Then you can sprinkle the rest of the cookie with green sugar. If you forgot to buy any green sugar, you can make your own by adding a drop of food coloring to a little saucer of regular sugar and sort of rubbing it into the sugar with your fingers. Your fingertips will turn green if you do this, and of course it’s going to be ordinary sugar and not the larger crystals, but it will be nicely green and look good.
If you use red hots, make sure not to push them down too far. You want them dimpled into the dough, but not so deeply that they’re too close to the pan or touching the pan through the cookie. They’ll melt if they’re too close to the hot pan. That won’t affect their flavor, but they look nicer if they don’t melt.
Once the cookies are decorated, put the pan in the oven and set the timer for nine minutes. This is usually enough time for perfectly done cookies, but if your oven tends to run a little cool or if you made your cookies really large and thick, they may need another minute or two. Thinner cookies cook faster than thick ones, of course, and any pieces that stick out from the main cookie, like reindeer antlers, will cook faster too. That’s one reason why I don’t like cookie cutters that have fiddly designs. It’s too easy for those narrow pieces to burn before the entire cookie is fully done, plus those little thin sections tend to deform more easily when you’re cutting the cookies out, plus the cutter itself tends to get clogged and you have to scrape dough out of it with the tip of a knife or something before you can cut the next cookie. My favorite cookie cutters are simple shapes, like stars.
You can tell when the cookies are done because the edges will be just barely browned. Take them out and set them somewhere besides the top of the stove, because you want them to cool quickly. I often set the pan over the sink.
Hopefully, while the first batch of cookies was in the oven you were able to get the next batch ready to go. Usually it takes me longer than nine minutes to cut out the second batch and get them decorated, though. It depends on how efficient you are and whether you have someone else in the kitchen to help you.
Once the first batch of cookies has been out of the oven for a few minutes, remove them carefully from the pan with a spatula and place them on a wire rack to cool the rest of the way, if you have a wire rack. If not, you can set them on a paper plate or a regular plate.
These cookies really are easy to make, and they’re pretty forgiving even if you’ve never rolled out cookie dough before. You’ll get the hang of it quickly, and even if you burn the first batch a little they’ll still taste good. The main thing to remember is to keep your dough chilled, even if it means repeatedly returning it to the fridge, or even the freezer for short lengths of time, so it can cool down.
I don’t recommend you double this recipe. It’s easier to make one batch of dough, put it on to chill, and then make a second batch. You can even reuse the same bowls without needing to wash them out, as long as you’re going to make the second batch the same color as the first.
I have good memories of making these cookies right before Christmas, me and my mom working together to produce enough for our family get-together with extras for neighbors, friends, coworkers, and anyone else we could think of. Wrap half a dozen holly cookies in wax paper and tie it with a ribbon, and you’ve got a nice little gift that costs almost nothing but time and doesn’t make the recipient feel like they should have gotten you something. There were years when Mom and I made more than eight dozen cookies in a single night, which is exhausting, by the way. If you make more than one batch of this dough, and plan to bake it all up in one day, you need to use three baking sheets—or more if you have more. One pan will be in the oven, one pan will be the one you’re working on, and one pan will be cooling down before you use it again.
If your cookies get too warm before they go into the oven, whether it’s because you set the pan on the oven while you were decorating the cookies or because you put the dough on a pan that hadn’t fully cooled, your cookies will come out of the oven looking wrinkled. The warmer the cookies were before baking, the more wrinkled they end up. The pan can feel cool to the touch and still actually be quite warm where cookie dough is concerned. Of course, wrinkled-looking cookies still taste just fine, but if you’re giving these as a gift it can be frustrating if they don’t look pretty.
These cookies aren’t just for Christmas or other winter holidays, of course. Everyone likes sugar cookies, and they make a pretty addition to any gift or potluck. Or you can just make them for yourself.
Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. I will be going on hiatus for a while with this podcast, although I may release an episode here and there. Until season three rolls around sometime in spring of 2021, get out there and enjoy your food.