Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sugar Cookies 101

I often get questions about the recipe for my sugar cookies aka: cut out cookies.  It's really a simple recipe.  I'll even share a few secrets with you.

Basic sugar cookies

3/4 C butter - room temperature
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla or other flavoring
2 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder

That's it.  That's the whole list of ingredients.  About the flavoring..... I use vanilla.  You can use almond extract, rum extract, lemon juice, all sorts of things.  I use vanilla because everyone loves vanilla, it doesn't conflict with the icing (I'll put the icing in another post) and I don't have to worry about nut allergies like when using almond extract.  Really it's a personal choice.

Now, for the instructions.

Mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  This is a big thing.  Most people don't mix them long enough.

This is what it looks like when you start.

The color is a light yellow and it's rather stiff.  For this step it really helps if you have a stand mixer or a really good hand mixer.  Beat it until it's almost white.  It will get much fluffier too.  This takes 3 - 5 minutes with a stand mixer.  This is what it looks like.

It doesn't show up very well, but the color is much lighter and you can easily stir it with a spatula.

Next mix in the eggs and your flavoring, just until combined.  Slowly stir in the flour and baking powder.  The recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups of flour, but I usually end up using about 3 cups.  It helps the cookie keep it's shape when baking and keeps it from spreading.  Cookies made with butter tend to spread.  When you have it all mixed it should look like this.

It will be a little sticky, but should hold together well.  Now put some plastic wrap over the bowl and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Why?  There are a couple of reasons.  First and foremost it will make the dough easier to handle.  You will have a nice stiff dough that will roll out well without sticking to the rolling pin.  It will cut nicely too.  The other reason is that when the cold butter hits the hot oven, it creates cookie magic.

When your dough has been chilled, take it from the fridge and scoop out what you are going to work with at one time.  Put the rest back in the fridge.  You will have to work it a little bit to loosen it up, kind of like starting a new container of Play Doh.

Dust the cutting board with flour.  Do not use too much and do not use more dough than you can roll out a couple of times.  The more flour you add, the tougher your cookie is going to get.

Next important step - roll out the dough, but not too thin.  No less than 1/4" thick.  You can get bands that go on your rolling pin that let you know when you've reached the desired thickness.  If you roll it too thin, your cookies are going to brown or burn and get crispy.

Cut out as many cookies as you can from your first rolling.

You can take the scraps, make a ball and roll them out again.  I don't go for more than 3 rollings to keep the cookies from getting tough.  After that I mix the scraps into the next batch I'm getting from the fridge.

Place the cookies on parchment lined cookie sheets.  This is not mandatory, but it does make life much easier.  What is parchment paper?  It's a special paper made to go in the oven.  It keeps the cookies from sticking to the tray and the cookies don't stick to the paper.  You find it in the store where you find waxed paper, aluminum foil and all the other goodies.  It saves you from having to use a spatula to get the cookies off the sheet and you have less risk of breaking them.  Simply slide the sheet off the cookie sheet and onto your table or counter to cool.  Life is much easier.

Bake for 8 - 10 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you put two sheets into the oven, move them halfway through so they bake evenly.  I don't go for the "brown around the edges" because that doesn't give me the soft texture that I want.  They are a little overdone (to me) at that point.  This is what mine look like when they come out of the oven.

Let them cool at least 4 hours, or overnight.  Now you have a nice blank canvas for decorating.  Or you can sprinkle the decorating sugar on before you bake them and just eat them that way.


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