Sugar Cookies - Cooking School / CM

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This recipe is primarily intended for decorator cookies - the kind that are so often bland and tasteless and are left behind on the cookie tray as being "too pretty to eat". But with a few well thought out flavoring embellishments, there is no need to expect that a pretty cookie must be boring! Most of the principles of cookie making given here apply to all forms of cookie types.

Unlike most sugar cookies, this recipe does not call for baking powder or soda, so these cookies will have less of a tendency to puff up and spoil the lines of your intricately detailed cookies.

The only leavening (or lightening) these cookies will have to tenderize them will be the air which is beaten in when the sugar and butter are creamed. Mix the ingredients until well combined before the flour has been added; once the flour is in the bowl, beat the mixture as little as possible to avoid developing gluten in the cookies (tough strands of protein that are desirable in bread-making but not in making cookies!).

If you're more concerned about taste than the delineation of your cookie cut-outs, add 1 tsp. baking powder to the recipe (stir it into the flour along with the salt); this will help the cookies rise and become more tender, but it best left out for decorative cookies.

While on the subject of baking powder, mark the bottom of the can indicating the date of purchase. Toss any unused baking powder at the end of 6 months.

Adjusting Dough Consistency:

Different kinds of cookies (such as drop cookies, roll-out, etc) are produced by using variable amounts of liquid in the recipe, but liquid ingredient quantities are not all that affects dough consistency. Different environmental and storage conditions affect the ability of flour to absorb moisture; egg sizes, flour quality, kind, and measuring cups all play a role in shaping the final product. Be sure, also, when measuring liquids, to use measuring cups intended for the purpose rather than those intended for measuring dry ingredients.

Usually, liquid measuring cups are made of clear Pyrex or plastic so that you will be able to see from the front to the back measuring line while holding the cup at eye level. Use metal or plastic cups for measuring dry ingredients which allow you to sweep away excess using a spatula to level the top.

Store flour in an airtight container if you live in an atmosphere of high humidity, or the flour will tend to absorb excess moisture from the air and so will require less liquids to be added than standard recipes call for. (The only way around this is to weigh your ingredients, as professional bakers do).

If your dough seems to be too sticky, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until dough is of a workable consistency. If your dough appears to be too dry and crumbly, add a tablespoon of additional liquid and work it in until the dough holds together and is rollable.

Keep in mind that you should use as little flour as possible to keep the cookies light; excessive flour will make for dry, tasteless and tough cookies. On humid days, it may be helpful to roll dough between sheets of wax or parchment paper, then refrigerator and cut after an hour of chilling the dough sheets.

Taste Is What You Make It:

The vanilla may be substituted with other flavorings such as almond, orange, lemon or other flavorings, or use only half of the vanilla plus the finely grated yellow portion of the rind of a lemon. A few drops of peppermint or spearmint extract can be added to flavor the dough when making candy canes. Liqueur flavorings may also be used, but you will need to add at least 1 tablespoon of these to make a difference; you may need to add an extra tablespoon of flour or so to adjust consistency.

Taste the cookie dough before the egg has been added, and adjust the flavoring; if the cookies taste bland before going into the oven, they will surely be bland when they come out. An extra tablespoon or so of sugar or honey may help, but keep in mind that the dough will become more sticky when extra sugar is added.

There is no bland-tasting cookie that a little fancy liqueur cannot remedy. Good candidates for flavoring cookie dough: Anisette, whiskey, Strega, walnut liquor, Butterscotch Schnaps, Amaretto, Limoncello, dark or spiced rum, coconut rum, brandy, orange curacao, mint schnaps, and so many others.

Most of the alcohol will bake off in the oven; much of the remainder will evaporate as the cookies are stored, leaving behind only the mellow flavor.

Cooks Tip: You can make your own "improved" vanilla extract by dropping a few whole vanilla beans into a pint of dark rum or bourbon. Let it sit for at least 6 months. No need to remove the beans - they will eventually disintegrate, leaving a wonderfully rich liquid with exceptional flavor.

Other Additions:

If the cookie you're making calls for some food coloring, add it to the dough (just a few drops will do). Finely chopped nuts may be added (up to 2 cups). Some nuts that go well in cookies are macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, pistachio nuts, and Brazil nuts.

1 or 2 cups of the flour may be substituted with ground nut meal, such as almond meal or ground hazelnuts (remove skins first). Adjust consistency as necessary.

What can I do with leftover, failed, or stale cookies?:

Process them in a food processor to make crumbs. Bind them together with melted butter and flavor them with cinnamon if you like. Press them into a pie pan as you would a graham cracker crust or line the bottom of a spring-form pan (and up the sides) for a cheesecake crust. Coarsely crumble stale cookies and toast them in the oven for 5 minutes, then sprinkle them over ice cream as a topping. Make a 1/4-inch layer of cookie crumbs at the bottom of a refrigerator cake; top with pudding, mousse or melted ice cream, then freeze or refrigerate until serving. Sugar cookie dough may also be rolled out (before being baked) and used to line sweet pies such as custard, ricotta pie, pudding pies, pumpkin pies or custards.


3 cups all purpose flour (more or less, as needed)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
food coloring (optional)

Whisk together flour and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla or other extracts and lemon zest (if using).

Combine until ingredients are well blended.

With mixer on lowest speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture until all ingredients are combined (about 45 seconds - do not overmix). Divide dough into 3 or 4 portions and flatten into a disk shape. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days - freeze if keeping for a longer time).

Remove cookie dough from refrigerator 20-30 minutes before rolling out. If you attempt to roll out the dough while it is still too cold, it will crack along the edges and appear dry. If the dough becomes too soft sitting out, return it to the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Transfer dough to a clean work surface which has been lightly dusted with flour. A silicone baking mat may be used to roll out the cookies, or they can be rolled between sheets of wax or parchment paper. Roll out 1/8 to 1/4-inch thickness. We like to use a silicone fondant rolling pin fitted with spacer rings to roll dough to an even thickness (available in craft stores and department stores in the cake decorating section).

Dip cookie cutters in flour before each cut and tap off the excess. To avoid a floury edge, the cutters may alternatively be wiped lightly with cake release or oil, or sprayed with Pam. Cut into desired shapes. If cookies are cut on parchment paper, they may be cut directly on the cookie sheet.

Preheat oven to 350F and bake for 8-16 minutes, depending upon the size of the cookies. Smaller, thinner cookies will take less time to bake, while larger, thicker cookies will take longer. It doesn't pay to walk away from the oven while baking cookies. A digital timer is a useful aid for cookie making. Set the timer to go off 2 minutes before you expect the cookies to be done, and stand close by during the final few minutes of baking. Avoid opening the oven door to peek very often as this will also affect baking time.

Happy Baking!

Submitted by: CM
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