The Best Sugar Cookie I’ve Ever Baked - No. 63
Simple ingredients & named after my daughter
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Happy Hanukkah to many of you! Today I start playing my greatest hits of holiday baking. First up - a sugar cookie recipe that we’ve baked for decades. Enjoy, share, leave a comment. Tis the season, right?
WHEN MY CHILDREN WERE LITTLE we would decorate sugar cookies any chance we got. It was an art project, but you could eat it.
The drill went something like this: I draped the kitchen floor with an old sheet. With a little advance planning, I made the dough the night before and pulled it from the fridge to warm a bit before rolling out.
Then we gathered up all the sugar sprinkles on a tray, our favorite cookie cutters from the kitchen cabinet, and I whisked an egg white for the "glue" needed to stick the sprinkles to the cookies.
The holidays were more festive because of these decorated cookies named after my older daughter Kathleen. She and her bossy self took ownership of the recipe and instructed her two younger siblings how best to decorate them. And she turned out to be an art major in college, so I guess the cookies were good practice!
It was a wonderful, messy sugar fest, and after it was over and done I took the sheet outside and shook it in the wind.
Glad the memories didn’t fly away…
What I love about cookies is that they are ageless & timeless
When I researched my book American Cookie, I learned that just like cake baking in our country’s history, cookies have evolved through the centuries.
They have been shaped and formed by the people who made them. And they drew their identity from the ingredients or special tools needed to make them.
But unlike cake, cookies didn’t require high-level culinary experience or expensive ingredients. They have been simple to bake from the beginning of time. They serve a lot of people, especially children. And they take to substitutions easily, so when times were tight, you could swap in the margarine instead of the butter. And my mother recalled sugar cookies served at Christmas because they were special, especially in those war years when precious sugar was saved for holiday baking.
I always think of Kathleen’s Sugar Cookies right after Thanksgiving because this was the recipe I made for our church’s Advent festivities. Back before Covid and when my children were young, families brought a recipe of their favorite cookies to share while everyone decorated Advent wreaths.
The year my mother died, I had made the cookie dough ahead of Thanksgiving. It sat waiting in the fridge to be rolled and cut into shapes.
But our family was grieving after my mother’s death, so a friend picked up the cookie dough and took it to her kitchen to roll and cut, decorate and bake with her children and share with everyone at church. I’ve always been grateful to Carolyn for making that happen. And grateful for this special recipe.
A few sugar cookie baking tips
Like so many great cookie recipes, the ingredients are few. Just butter, sugar, flour, and eggs. And a little vanilla.
You must chill the dough several hours or preferably overnight to make it easier to roll out. And I work with a quarter of the dough at a time, keeping the rest in the fridge to stay cool. I’ve learned that chilled dough is less sticky on the flour-dusted counter and cookie cutters. It’s easier on your sanity, too!
Once I cut trees, angels, or bells from the dough, I gather the scraps, wrap them in plastic or parchment, and tuck them in the fridge or freezer until needed.
I am so obsessed with cold dough that I place the baking sheets filled with decorated cookies back in the fridge for a few minutes before baking so they keep their shape while baking. And I keep the oven light on to watch for the edges of the cookies to lightly brown, then I pull them from the oven, and transfer them carefully to a rack to cool. You can continue to cut out cookies from that chilled dough you’ve stashed in the fridge, decorate, and bake, but make sure you give the cookie sheets a chance to cool down between the batches.
Too many cookies? Freeze them!
Even if there are not as many people in the house as they’re used to be, I still make a full recipe of this cookie dough before Christmas. But I might divide the dough in half and freeze some for baking a few months down the road.
I place the dough in a zipper-lock freezer bag where it will keep for several months, and I let it thaw on the counter before rolling into cookies.
You can even freeze the baked cookies! Just place them in plastic containers, separating the layers of cookies with parchment paper. They’ll keep for up to a month.
But be forewarned that these sugar cookies disappear quickly.
Either the cookie decorators start to munch on them, or you snag one or two while you’re wrapping gifts, or you take a plateful to a friend, and pretty soon, you just need to bake some more!
What holiday cookies are you baking?
A New Take on Cake Book Tour Continues!
Check out my Book Tour schedule! This week I am at Litchfield Books at Pawley’s Island, SC, (TODAY!) 11/30 from 5 to 7 pm. On Wednesday 12/1 look for me at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC, at 2 pm, then Southern Home and Kitchen in Winston-Salem, NC, from 6-7 pm. And on Thursday 12/2 I’ll be at my friend Patti Greek’s shop, Greek’s Bearing Gifts, in Athens, TN, at 4 pm. Then it’s on to Atlanta for two signings Saturday 12/4 - A Capella Books at 11 am and FoxTale Books in Woodstock at 1. I hope to see you and share my favorite recipes from my new book. There’s even a shortcut of a sugar cookie recipe and a whole chapter of wonderful cookies to bake during the holidays!
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#ThrowbackThursday for Subscribers
Travel with me back in time to my days of being The Dinner Doctor. This Thursday I share my 10 best holiday tricks, hacks, shortcuts, whatever you want to call them for easy but great holiday cooking. And one involves frozen biscuit dough!
Kathleen’s Sugar Cookies
A recipe like this is made for a cookie swap, but I will warn you that everyone may gravitate to your decorated cookies! I love cookie swaps because of the variety. You show up with one kind of cookie and go home with eight to 10 more! My idea of a perfect cookie swap? Kathleen’s Sugar Cookies, my friend Sara’s Thumbprints, gingerbread-molasses cookies, and Chocolate Forgotten Cookies. I’ll write about those other recipes one day soon.
Makes about 5 dozen cookies
Prep: 10 to 15 minutes to make the dough, plus 1 hour for decorating
Chill: At least an hour, or overnight
Bake: 10 to 12 minutes
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg white, lightly beaten with a fork
Colored sugars of your choice
Make the cookie dough: Place the butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl and using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well. Beat in the flour on low speed until just combined. Cover the bowl and chill at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight.
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or leave it ungreased.
Working with a quarter of the dough at a time, roll it out on a floured surface to about 1/8-inch thickness. Keep the remaining dough refrigerated. Cut with cookie cutters dipped in flour and transfer cookies carefully to the baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart.
Decorate the cookies: If you are using colored sugars, brush the cookies with a little egg white before sprinkling on the colored sugars. If there is room, place the cookie sheet in the fridge for a few minutes for the cookies to get nice and cold before they bake.
Bake the cookies until they are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool on them for 1 minute. Then, using a spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.
Once the cookies are cool, place in tins, lined with parchment or waxed paper. Place the lids on the tins. Left tightly covered, the cookies stay crisp for up to a week.