Sugar Cookies

The Most Versatile Cookies

Sugar cookies
James And James/Stockbyte/Getty Images

I will be the first one to admit that I hadn't decorated a sugar cookie since I was in elementary school. They seemed too much trouble. You spend all that time decorating to just go ahead and eat them. But times have changed, and I have an elementary-aged child who loves to dabble in the arts (painting and sculpting clay). Loretta also likes to show off her culinary skills (she's moved from stirring a pot of water on her little table to making supervised scrambled eggs).

She also loves decorating sugar cookies with her friends. There's a lot of entertainment packed into flour, colored sugars and a few eggs.

Sugar cookies are a rolled cookie in which the dough is made ahead of time and refrigerated. The dough also freezes well. I always make mine ahead of time. Even if you don't have time to make the dough yourself, there are some good store bought versions out there. Kids don't notice any difference. I think the fun is in the decorating not the eating. Although, I must say this recipe for sugar cookies is pretty good. In fact one of Loretta's teachers says that my sugar cookies are "sturdy, yet tasty." Sturdy means perfect for decorating and tasty means good to eat too.

Look on the next 3 pages for the suggested shopping list, recipe, and some fun flavor variations. Enjoy!

Keep these ingredients on hand and you'll always be able make sugar (and other) cookies.

flour
granulated sugar
brown sugar
butter*
solid shortening
vegetable oil
eggs
baking powder
baking soda
milk
vanilla extract (and other extracts, if desired)
salt
colored sugars (red and green)
colored sprinkles or any other nonpareils
colored icing (either make you own, or buy the already made)
chopped nuts
shredded coconut
M&M's
any other toppings you desire at the store
unsweetened chocolate
food colors

*I know that a lot of chefs prefer unsalted butter for baking. They do it to control the amount of salt in the recipe. Personally, I find the taste of unsalted butter flat. That's why I always use salted butter.

1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup shortening or butter*
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Early in the day or the day before:
In a large bowl cream the shortening and the sugar. Add the eggs, extract, and milk. In a medium bowl mix the dry ingredients with a wire whisk. Add the dry ingredients to the large bowl. Mix with mixer until well combined.

With hands, shape dough into a ball. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease cookie sheets. Roll** half or 1/3 dough at a time, keep the rest refrigerated. For crisp cookies, roll dough, paper thin. For softer cookies, roll 1/8 " to 1/4" thick. With floured cookie cutter, cut into shapes. Re-roll trimmings and cut.

Place cookies 1/2 inch apart on cookie sheets. Decorate*** Bake 8 minutes or until very light brown. With pancake turner, remove cookies to racks; cool. Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

Basic Decorators' Icing Recipe and Instructions

Notes in the Margin:

*I've found that if you want "sturdy and tasty" cookies you should use 1/2 shortening and 1/2 butter. Shortening makes cookies sturdy and butter makes them tasty.

** Rolling Hints: Sue B. says: " Roll the dough out BEFORE chilling and then chill. I roll out my sugar cookie dough right after it is mixed up between 2 sheets of waxed paper, place it on to a flat baking sheet and put it in the fridge.

Continue until all the dough is rolled out, stacking the dough sheets on top of the first one. You will go through a lot of waxed paper, but the convenience is worth it for me. When you're ready to cut them out, take out one sheet at a time, peel off the top waxed paper, lightly rub some flour onto the dough, replace the waxed paper and flip the dough sheet over.

Peel off the now top sheet of waxed paper and you're ready to cut out your cookies. Collect the dough scraps in a plastic baggie so they don't dry out, re-roll when you have enough for a large sheet. I reuse some of the waxed paper sheets for re-rolling the scraps. A couple tips..... If the waxed paper slips on the counter while rolling, wipe the counter with a damp cloth. And while rolling the dough, sometimes the bottom waxed paper wrinkles, flip over the dough and waxed paper, release waxed paper and re-roll. This method of rolling out cookie dough has been a real time and mess saver for me." ShadoeRose says: "I have found that it is difficult to roll if attempting to do so immediately after taking out of the refrigerator. Take a portion of the dough out and put the rest back in the refrigerator as you don't want the dough to get to room temperature. Let the piece you are working with, warm slightly but keeping beneath room temperature. Experiment with different lengths of time of warming until you find the temperature you find the easiest to work with."

***To decorate with colored sugars: Prepare cookies by brushing with heavy cream or an egg white slightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of water.

Sprinkle with decorative toppings.

***To decorate with food colors: Mix 1 egg yolk and 1/4 teaspoon water. Divide mixture among several custard cups. Tint each with different food color to make bright colors. (If paint thickens while standing, stir in a few drops of water.) Paint designs on cookies with small paint brushes.

Even More Cookie Recipes to Try -

Butter Spritz Cookies
Lintzer Cookies
Rosette Cookies
Neapolitan Cookies
Thumbprint Cookies
Pecan Tassies Butterscotch-Pecan: Substitute 2 cups packed brown sugar for sugar. Add 1 cup finely chopped pecans to ingredients.

Chocolate: Increase milk to 3 tablespoons. Add 3 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted, and 1 cup finely chopped walnuts to ingredients.

Coconut: Add 1 cup coconut, chopped, to ingredients.

Lemon: Substitute 4 teaspoons lemon juice and grated peel of 1 lemon for vanilla.

Almond: Substitute almond extract for vanilla and add 1 cup ground almonds to ingredients.

Peppermint: Substitute peppermint extract for vanilla. Any other extract flavor you choose: Use instead of vanilla.

The Sky is the Limit: With all of the flavorings out there, you can make up any combinations.

Which ones can you come up with?