Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sugar Cookie Tips

Solstice is coming! I hope to share a few holiday ideas in the next week. None should be as long as this one, so forgive me!

One of my favorite and yet most labor-intensive holiday traditions is baking and decorating sugar cookies. I thought I'd share some tips for these classic holiday treats. I use Betty Crocker's recipe, minus the almond extract. It's a tried and true favorite. The biggest thing with your recipe is to use real butter. I always stock up on Organic Valley Butter when the holidays approach! I also prefer recipes that use cream of tartar. Once you've made your batter, let it chill properly (at least 4 hours) and then set up your workstation. You'll need parchment lined cookie sheets, flour, a rolling pin, and cookie cutters. Preheat your oven. Flour your work area, and divide your dough in half. Put one half back in the fridge while you roll out the other. Try to get the dough to an even thickness of about 1/4". My best tip is to try to make similarly shaped cookies within each cookie sheet. For example: snowflakes, suns, and stars go together at our house. (How Celestial!) It's also a good idea to pay attention to whether the edges of your shapes stick out much--those will bake more quickly. In years past when I've done double, triple, or even quad batches, I've done sheets of just one shape, which works great. (An Aside: Are Reindeer Really Worth It? It probably depends on your cookie cutter. Here we end up with a lot of headless reindeer. Last year, I admit it, I made 9. Having accomplished that feat, this year I made two, just to keep on my game.) You want to try to get as many cookies per rolling of dough not just to save on labor, but also because the dough will become a little bit more tough as it's re-rolled, and picks up more flour from the rolling surface. Make sure that collected trimmings are put back in the fridge. Keeping them cool makes them much easier to roll. I will sometimes put them in the freezer if I'm moving quickly.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you want the pure, light colored, cakey cookie, or whether you want to let them get a bit crispier, and brown around the edges. I have a tendency to overdo mine. I like them somewhere in-between, and try to pull them out of the oven when they've just barely started to color at the edges. Again, uniform shapes will help them to bake evenly. I allow the cookies a couple of minutes to cool on the sheets, then move them to a wire rack to finish cooling. (Another aside: Make sure your oven mitt is not wet when grabbing a 350 degree metal pan. If you flinch and your cookies slide smoothly from the parchment paper to crumble on your oven bottom, you may become distraught.)

Once the cookies are completely cool, you're ready to decorate. I generally break this up into two days, because it truly is a lot of work. I find it easiest to lay all of the cookies out at once so that you can work with one color of frosting at a time. I use a simple frosting of butter, vanilla, milk, and powdered sugar. It's not environmentally friendly, but the best tool I've found for frosting is a ziploc bag. Cut a very small bit of corner off, or if you want to use a decorating tip, make a slightly larger cut, and simply put the icing tip inside the bag. Make sure the frosting is completely dry before packing the cookies away. This may take an hour or more. If you have dogs, they will get grumpy at being left outside for so long, so as to present cookie snatching. This is par for the course.

You can absolutely freeze these cookies, but they are better unfrozen once they've been frosted. If they are stored in a totally airtight container, they'll became a bit soft, so I prefer loosely draped plastic wrap. Yes, I know they're "just" sugar cookies, but up until now they're one of the few holiday traditions I felt was "mine". I may only eat two or three, but I love the look of the rows of lovingly crafted, good ol' fashioned iced sugar cookies.

1 comment:

womynrev said...

you're amazing!!

beautiful cookies, m'dear.