Kitchen tools, gourmet foods, baking mixes, and hard-to-find baking ingredients mentioned in this article are available at The Prepared Pantry.
by Dennis Weaver
Every little kid should make cookies at Christmas. It's a wonderful opportunity to spend time with Mom or Dad. It's a time to be creative, to make something pretty, and to build excitement in the holiday season. No wonder their little eyes are so bright.
But sugar cookies don't always turn out right. We've compiled a list of tips and techniques to help you make the very best sugar cookies. Plus we'll give you ideas for variations and help you choose the right rolling pin.
Variations on the theme
Sugar cookies can be a work of art. I'm not an artist but I can make sugar cookies that taste good. Here are variations to make sugar cookies more than ordinary.
• Chocolate Sugar Cookies. I like chocolate. So my first choice is for chocolate sugar cookies. A fudgy sugar cookie with dark, fudgy frosting is my perfect sugar cookie.
• Cinnamon Chip Sugar Cookies. Depending on the size of your recipe, add 3/4 to one cup of cinnamon chips to your dough. Add them at the end and don't beat longer than necessary.
• Raspberry, Strawberry, or Blueberry Sugar Cookies. Add blueberry, raspberry, or strawberry bits for splashes of color and a burst of flavor.
• Bark Topped Sugar Cookies. Our new chopped bark—a combination of candy and white chocolate chopped into pieces for decorations—adds a lot of flavor and a pretty topping.
• Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookies. Depending on the size of your recipe, add 3/4 to one cup of chocolate chips to your dough. Add them at the end.
• Cranberry Nut Sugar Cookies. Depending on the size of your recipe, add 3/4 cup finely chopped cranberries and 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts to the dough.
• Butterscotch Sugar Cookies. Add a teaspoon of butterscotch flavor. Depending on the size of your recipe, add 3/4 to one cup of butterscotch chips to your dough. Add them at the end.
• Spiced Sugar Cookies. Add a teaspoon of good quality cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon ginger.
• Zested Orange, Lemon, or Lime Sugar Cookies. Add a tablespoon of zest and a teaspoon of orange flavor, lemon flavor, or lime flavor to your cookies.
You can see that sugar cookies don't have to be "plain vanilla.” In addition to what you see here, consider adding flavors to both your dough and your frosting. (You'll taste more flavor in your frosting since heat drives off some of the flavor in your dough.) Add other dried fruit and nuts—just keep the pieces small. Experiment with peanut butter chips or peanut butter in your dough.
Choosing the Right Rolling Pin
It's important to work quickly and keep the butter cold. The right rolling pin makes a difference. There are marble rolling pins, stainless steel rolling pins, and rolling pins with slick, nonstick surfaces. Are they better than the old wooden pins?
Tips for great sugar cookies
We've compiled this list of tips and techniques to help you make the very best sugar cookies.
1. Measure ingredients accurately, especially the flour. Too much flour will make your cookies hard and dry. If you scoop the flour with the measuring cup instead of spooning sifted flour into your cup, you are likely to have 20% too much flour.
2. Sugar cookies are made by the creaming method. This is the most important step in making sugar cookies—it incorporates the air into the dough that acts as a leavening agent. Use the paddle attachment of your electric mixer to cream the sugar, salt, and spices with the butter or shortening. Cream the ingredients together at low speed, not high. For light cookies, cream the mixture until it is light and fluffy. For a denser, moister cookie, cream only until the mixture is paste-like.
3. Add the eggs and liquid after creaming, beating these in at low speed.
4. Mix the flour into the creamed mixture only until it is combined. If you over-mix, you will develop the gluten and make a tougher cookie.
5. Choose a low protein flour, preferably pastry flour, for your sugar cookies. Avoid bread flours with their high protein content. All purpose flour is an acceptable compromise.
6. If the dough is too soft to work easily, chill it until firm. The dough should be pliable but not squishy soft. Handling of the dough with warm hands will make the dough soft.
7. Use no more flour than necessary to dust the counter. The flour will work into the dough for a drier, tougher cookie.
8. Too much re-rolling will make for tougher cookies. Not only does successive re-rolling work the dusting flour into the dough, the continued working of the dough develops the gluten.
9. When cutting shapes, make the cuts as close together as you can to minimize the amount of dough that will be re-rolled.
10. Most recipes call for the dough to be rolled to 1/8 inch in thickness. This creates a crisp cookie. For a moister, less crisp cookie, roll the dough to 1/4 inch only.
11. Remove the cookies from the counter with a thin metal spatula.
12. When garnishing cookies with sprinkles, drop the decorations from a height of eight or ten inches for a more even distribution.
13. The size of the cookies will affect bake times. Put like-sized cookies on the same sheet.
14. Do not over bake cookies. Thin cookies will bake in seven or eight minutes at 350 degrees F. Thicker cookies will take ten or twelve minutes. Cookies on darker pans will bake in less time. When done, the cookies will still be pale-colored with just a tinge of brown at the edges.
15. Cool cookies on a wire rack. Do not frost them until they are completely cooled.
Fudgy Sugar Cookies
For the cookies
For the frosting
Dennis Weaver is the founder of The Prepared Pantry, a full line kitchen store in Rigby, Idaho. The Prepared Pantry sells kitchen tools, gourmet foods, and baking ingredients including hundreds of hard-to-find ingredients.