Wow, two posts in two days! Lucky you!
You might remember that I promised, a very long time ago, to share my Amazing Happy Super Fantastic Ultra-Fun-Time Famous Sugar Cookie recipe. Or, as I like to call it, my sugar cookie recipe. And today is the day I share.
This recipe really needs no explanation, except that it’s superb and you will love it. It’s from the good ol’ Betty Crocker Cooky Book (c 1963) which means it’s full of sugar and butter. This recipe, which the cookbook credits to a one Mary Herman, is unique in that it uses confectioner’s sugar, almond extract and cream of tartar, and the cookies are light and slightly crumbly as opposed to the chewy kind most people are used to. But trust me: they’re better this way. Thank Betty and Mary and get baking.
Mary’s Sugar Cookies
- 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
- 1 cup butter
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Make sure your butter is at room temperature and mix it with your sugar. I do this by hand or else I get powdered sugar EVERYWHERE. It helps to have a well-worn wooden spoon.
It will take a whole lot of elbow grease, but eventually it will look smooth and creamy like this:
Add your egg and extracts and mix well. I use an old-school egg beater for this part. In a separate bowl, blend your dry ingredients, then add to the wet ingredients. Try not to fling flour out of the bowl like I sometimes (always) do. This too will take a lot of stir power. The dough will start out looking like this:
But keep at it! Use the back of the spoon in a downward motion around the bowl, being sure to flip the dough ball as it forms to get the sneaky flour bits at the bottom, and eventually you’ll wind up with this:
Cover this in plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge. The recipe says to refrigerate for two to three hours, but at this point I start preheating the oven at 375 and prepping my rolling station. I halve the dough (leaving the rest covered in the fridge) and start rolling it out after only about fifteen minutes because I’m very impatient.
Roll the dough out to about a quarter inch thick on a well-floured surface. Seriously, flour everything. Flour the cookie cutters, too. Once I cut out my cookies I put them on a plastic cutting board (which doesn’t stick) and put that in the fridge to chill as everything bakes. For the cookies that are immediately oven-bound, bake them about two inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes. Ideally the edges will be just barely brown, which brings out the toasty almond flavor.
So there you have it. Depending on how big your cookie cutters are you’ll wind up with two to three dozen cookies. Two to three dozen amazing cookies. Unless you make a double batch, like I just did, which will yield you about 65 cookies and several hours of work. Thankfully they freeze beautifully; let the frosting set (put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for ten minutes) then layer them in a large airtight container between sheets of wax paper. They’ll keep for a solid couple of months!
But for however good these cookies are, the thing that really makes them special is the decorating. Can I brag about something for a second? I am fantastic at decorating cookies. I have the steadiest hand with a pastry bag you will ever see. I can draw straight lines in frosting like nobody’s business. Are these skills useful? No. But they do endear me to friends and family whenever I bake…which I do for almost every holiday. Observe (but ignore the shoddy picture quality, these were pre-blog days):
And, of course, the autumn cookies at the top of this post, which aren’t as elaborate but very seasonal. So how can you, too, decorate cookies like a pro?
1. Use a real pastry bag, real caps and a size two or three decorating tip. It’ll give you more control to not worry about your tip slipping out of a makeshift bag (that’s what she said!) and the size three is the standard for writing, dots and lines.
2. Move quickly. Look ahead at where you want your line to go and keep a fluid motion. Try not to backtrack, as blending your lines or covering mistakes will never look quite right. Try to squeeze all the air out of your bag to avoid bubbles.
3. When you’re ending a line or making a turn, press the decorating tip gently to help the frosting anchor. Otherwise you might go to make another letter and take the strand of frosting from the preceding letter with you. Same thing with dots: press briefly to make that frosting anchor to the cookie, or whatever you just squeezed out will stick to the decorating tip instead.
4. When frosting with a knife, push the frosting where you want it to go, don’t just swipe it on the cookie.
Getting smooth strokes when frosting with a knife can make all the difference, too. So, in the spirit of the season I thought I’d do a brief tutorial on how to frost pumpkin cookies to give them a little dimension.
1. Frost the entire cookie, except the stem.
2. Then run your knife smoothly along the outer left edge of the pumpkin.
3. Run your knife along the same contour, about 2/5 the way in to the center, creating a slight ridge against your last stroke.
4. Flip the cookie and repeat steps two and three on the opposite side, doing the outer edge first and moving inward.
5. Finally, turn the cookie upright and gently run your knife down the center of the pumpkin. You should have five little “sections” of frosting mimicking the curves on a pumpkin.
6. Then, using a pastry bag and brown or green frosting, fill in the stem and draw curly vines or a jack-o-lantern face.
So…is that helpful? Sometimes I have trouble explaining things because I do them so much it’s hard for me to break down the process for other people. Just keep practicing! Draw on paper towels with your frosting bag before tackling your cake or cookies! And remember, your cookies will be eaten before anyone even notices mistakes. So get to it!