Making Christmas sugar cookies a festive occasion

Adrienne Freeman Published December 12, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman

Fun for adults and children alike, decorating holiday-shaped sugar cookies is a family tradition for many. Try cutting the shapes on pre-cut parchment paper and removing the extra dough. This will help keep the cookies’ delicate shapes intact. For best results, keep the dough and baking sheets cool until they go into the oven.

Each family has its own traditions during the holidays, but none seems more widespread than baking and decorating Christmas sugar cookies. Cut into festive shapes and bedazzled with bling from sanding sugar, edible pearls and diamonds, shiny dragees or colorful jimmies, these little handmade pieces of art taste as good as they look.

Here are a few tips that can help to make those Christmas trees, stars and ornaments keep their shape and taste. For those who want to skip the mixing and jump right to the baking, pre-made refrigerated dough is an acceptable alternative, but still use the heating and chilling tips to maintain the cookies’ shape.

  1. Refrigerate the sugar cookie dough for at least 1 hour before making the cookies. This helps the dough roll out cleanly and helps the cutout cookies keep their shape when transferring them to the baking sheet. Any dough you are not currently using should be kept in the refrigerator.
  2. Cut sheets of parchment paper that fit your cookie sheets. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick on individual parchment sheets that have been lightly floured or coated with a mixture of flour and confectioners’ sugar. Cut out the cookies on the parchment paper and remove the exterior “scrap.” This prevents breaking the delicate shapes, and the even thickness guards against overbaking. The scrap dough is then rerolled and rechilled.
  3. Place the baking sheet with the cookies in the freezer for five minutes. This helps solidify the butter and minimizes spreading of the cookies. (If it’s cold out, just set them on the back porch for a little while.)
  4. Don’t overbake — 6 to 8 minutes is enough. Pull the cookies from the oven before the edges begin to brown. It may take a test batch or two to calibrate the temperature in your oven. Set a timer to keep the baking time consistent.
  5. Allow the baked cookies to rest on the baking sheet for a few minutes to firm up before transferring to a cooling rack. When cookies are on the rack, cool the empty, warm baking sheet in the freezer to keep the butter in the next batch from softening and causing the cookies to spread.

Basically, chilled dough, cool baking sheets and a hot oven provide the basics to perfectly shaped cookies. Now the fun part — decorate!

If the fussiness of cut cookies isn’t your cup of Christmas, rolled or dropped cookies are just as tasty and can be decorated, frosted and topped as well. This type of cookie will need just a couple more minutes baking time, usually 8 to 10 minutes. After the cookies are decorated, they last 10 days to two weeks in an airtight container, making them perfect for sharing or shipping.

OLD-FASHIONED SUGAR COOKIES

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, unsalted

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

In a second bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and mix well. Stir the flour into the butter mixture 1 cup at a time. Chill the dough for 3 to 4 hours.

Roll out the dough and cut into shapes with cookie cutters or a knife. Brush the cookies with milk, and sprinkle with colored sugar. Bake on a sheet pan or a parchment-lined sheet pan in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cookie. Remove cookies to a rack to cool completely.

MINT BUTTERCREAM SANDWICH COOKIES

1 recipe Sugar Cookie Dough or 1 roll refrigerated sugar cookie dough

Sanding sugar, if desired

Mint Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened

3 tablespoons whole milk

1/4 teaspoon mint extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll dough as described above. Cut into desired shapes. Dust with sanding sugar, if desired. Bake 6 to 8 minutes, removing cookies from the oven just before browning.

While cookies are cooling, make Mint Buttercream Frosting. In a medium bowl, mix powdered sugar and butter with a spoon or electric mixer on low speed. Stir in mint extract and 1 tablespoon milk. Gradually beat in just enough remaining milk to make frosting smooth and spreadable.

On half of the cookies, top sides down, spread thin layer of frosting almost to the edges. Top frosting with remaining cookies, top sides up; press together slightly.

SALTED CARAMEL SUGAR COOKIES

Ingredients:

1 recipe sugar cookie dough or 1 roll refrigerated sugar cookie dough

15 caramels, unwrapped

3 teaspoons water

Coarse sea salt

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and arrange about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until just beginning to brown. Let cool 3 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a microwavable bowl, microwave caramels and water uncovered on high in 30-second intervals until the mixture can be stirred smooth.

Drizzle caramel over cooled cookies with a spoon. Immediately sprinkle with sea salt.

WHITE CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT DROPS

Ingredients:

1 recipe sugar cookie dough or 1 roll refrigerated prepared sugar cookie dough

4 teaspoons heavy cream

1 to 2 drops peppermint extract

3 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1 candy cane or 6 hard peppermint candies, roughly crushed

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and arrange about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until just beginning to brown. Let cool 3 minutes on the baking sheets; then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Make the glaze: Microwave the remaining chopped white chocolate in 15-second intervals, stirring, until melted. Stir in the heavy cream and peppermint extract to taste. Dip the tops of the cookies in the glaze, and return to the rack. Sprinkle with the crushed candy cane, and let set, about 1 hour.

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