Monday, December 19, 2016

The Great Sugar Cookie Adventure

To me, sugar cookies are part of Christmas. My mom always made them, though (shh, don't tell her) they were never my favorites. She topped them with an egg wash and a sprinkling of nonpareils. The egg wash made them shiny and yellow, which just never appealed to me.

Many years ago, I went in search of a sugar cookie recipe that I liked. I tried all kinds of recipes. With sour cream, with lemon, with various extracts, but none were to my liking, so I made up my own recipe and liked it a lot.

But in recent years, that recipe has been giving me fits, so I went on another search for a recipe. Tada! I found one that claimed to be the best sugar cookie recipe. And it was almost exactly like mine! There were 3 differences in ingredients. They used lemon and almond flavorings, which I knew I didn't want. (I'm a purist about sugar cookies.) But there was one extra ingredient that I hadn't considered: 2 ounces of cream cheese!

There was also a little twist on refrigerating the dough that I had seen and used before but had forgotten about. Oh my gosh. It worked beautifully and made cleanup so easy! You roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and then refrigerate. It's a beautiful plan because you don't need any extra flour. And you since you work on the parchment paper, in the end you just wad it up and throw it away. No mess!

When you plan to bake these, take the butter out of the fridge to soften way ahead of time. If you forget, then cut each stick of butter into small cubes to speed up the softening process. 

Now, about that pesky icing. I have never had any success with outlining the cookie and then "flooding" it with icing. (Sigh.) So I read a few blogs about it and it seems like everyone does basically the same thing. So I tried.

Warning: do not plan to do this on a busy day. Don't think you can run home from work and ice the cookies for your kid's event that night. This is a lazy day project that took me hours. It's sort of addictive, actually.

When I was shopping earlier this year, I bought a bunch of sprinkles in anticipation of making these cookies. So I didn't use five different colors of icing. I took the lazy way out, used only white icing, and let the sprinkles bring the color to the cookies. For some reason, I was in a white and gold mood, so I made a lot of those and just a few red ones for friends who will like them.

But Krista, you say, where are Santa and Frosty? Hmm, good question. I'm planning to take some of these to the vet clinic where I spend way too much time and all of my money, but I think it goes to show that almost any cookie shape can add fun to the holidays? That's my theory anyway!

Sugar Cookies

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened
2 ounces cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Take the butter out to soften.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set it aside.

Cream the butter with the cream cheese until blended. Add the sugar and continue beating. Add the egg and beat. Add the vanilla and beat. On a low speed, add the flour mixture about 1/2 cup at a time. When the flour is in, beat to mix.

Divide the dough in 2 and make two balls out of it. Lay one ball on a sheet of parchment paper. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and roll out the dough. Don't go too thin or the cookies will be difficult to handle. 1/4 inch is about right. Repeat with the second ball of dough. Place both on a flat tray and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 and cover a cookie baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove one sheet of dough from the fridge. Cut out your cookies and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 8 - 12 minutes depending on thickness of the cookies. Roll the scraps into a ball, place between the pieces of parchment paper and roll out again. Place in fridge while you use the other sheet of dough. Repeat until all dough has been used.

Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes before moving to a baking rack to cool. When cool you can ice the cookies or stack them in an airtight container and ice them the next day.

Sugar Cookie Icing

2 cups powdered sugar, plus extra
3 tablespoons milk, plus extra
1 teaspoon vanilla
warm water (1-2 teaspoons as necessary)
sugar pearls, nonpareils, sprinkles, colored sugar


Wilton number 2 tip
Condiment dispenser bottle or Wilton number 4 tip
toothpick or bamboo skewer
1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon

Step One

The objective is to make two thicknesses of the same icing. One will be used to outline the cookie and the other will be used to flood the top of the cookie.

Place the powdered sugar in the mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons milk. Mix. Add one more tablespoon of milk. It should now be almost usable. If it's too dry, add 1/2 teaspoon warm water and mix. It should hold its shape but be soft enough to push through the number 2 tip. Fit a disposable icing bag with the number 2 tip and add a little of the icing. If you find it's too thick to push through comfortably, add drops of the water and mix again.

The best thing to do is experiment a little first. I found it easiest to hold the tip about 1/2 inch above the cookie. The tiny thread of icing will follow. If you mess up, don't worry, You can wipe it off with a paper towel and start over.

When finished, set aside to dry for a short time before going to the second step.

Step Two

If you need more icing than is left, add another cup of powdered sugar. Either way, add another tablespoon of milk to the icing in the bowl. Mix and add 1/2 teaspoon of warm water at a time, mixing after each addition. After several attempts, I can tell you that it's easiest if the icing consistency is a little runny. I found it easier to use a squeeze bottle than a tip for this step. Fill the bottle or the pastry bag fitted with number 4 tip. Follow the general shape of the cookie as you squeeze and add a dot to any tiny areas, like a dog's tail. Use the toothpick or bamboo skewer to spread, and to push the icing to the edges and into small areas.

If you plan to use pearls, nonpareils, or sugar, use them now before the icing dries. Use the tweezers to place the pearls. I found I had more control over the sugar if I put it into a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon and used the tweesers to knock out as much as I wanted to use over the cookie. When finished, place in a cool area to harden overnight and up to 24 hours (this will depend on the temperature, humidity, and on the thickness of the icing). Store in an airtight container with parchment paper between the cookies.

Cut the butter into cubes to help it soften faster

The dough will have a nice consistency.

Make 2 balls out of the dough.

Roll it out between two pieces of parchment paper.
Refrigerate flat.
Place on parchment covered baking sheet to bake.
Fun decorating items!
Cool before icing.
Use the icing to outline each cookie.
Be sure to get those cute angles.
Use the thinner icing to flood the cookie. Here I have squeezed some out.
On the right side, I have helped the icing spread with a bamboo skewer. Note that the left side isn't perfect!

It's a golden Christmas!

Not a creature was stirring, not even the moose.

Happy Holidays to you all!


  1. Krista, those are adorable! The sugar cookies we made in my kidhood were from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, and used powdered sugar, which gave them a more workable texture -- and to me, a better taste -- than some recipes. Your cream cheese version is tempting!

  2. Thanks, Leslie! One of the things I have learned since we started MLK, is that people expect and desire the flavors that are familiar to them. The powdered sugar recipe will probably always be your favorite!

  3. I like the elegance of the simplicity.
    The gold adds a lovely touch.

    1. Thanks, Libby. And so much faster than making five colors of frosting!

  4. Beautiful cookies. And they sound do good.

    1. Thanks, Mary Jane. They are very tasty. And rolling them out between sheets of parchment paper means no extra flour to make them dry.

  5. Since sugar cookies are my favorite, I made your recipe yesterday. They were delicious and the dough easy to work with!!!! Previously I had been making another sugar cookie, which you had sent me, but these are my new go-to!!! Thanks and Merry Christmas!!

    1. Woohoo! Sharon, I am so glad to hear that. They're my go-to sugar cookie recipe year round now. I love the parchment paper trick that makes them so easy.