These are some of the greatest sugar cookies ever. For real. They taste delicious, they aren’t difficult to make, they bake SUPER well without losing their shape, and they are fat free! (Okay, maybe not the last one.) Anytime I make these, they are a hit, and I get recipe requests. I made these for Gavin’s first, second, and third birthdays based on age and theme. This batch was made in gratitude for someone who did something amazingly generous for me (and I’m posting on Thanksgiving!!)
The recipe, which is titled “Holiday Cookies,” comes from the geniuses at America’s Test Kitchen. I actually don’t know that much about them, but I got this cookbook for Christmas a few years ago, and I have loved every single recipe I have made out of it. Especially the cookies. This cookbook has not only given me a lot of great recipes, it has also taught me a lot about cooking and baking because the authors explain within the recipes why they do things the way they do.
This cookbook has been very well loved.
And especially this recipe. Note the grease stains on the pages . . . ah, the markings of any good recipe.
Okay, enough of my love affair with this cookbook. On to the recipe! Start with all of this, plus salt (I think it’s highly likely that I will miss an ingredient – or five – in every one of these classic blogger cooking ingredient shots I do.)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cups superfine sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 16 TBSPs unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 pieces and softened
- 2 TBSPs cream cheese, softened
- 2 tsps vanilla extract
A few notes on the ingredients. First, ironically I initially left salt off the list too, ha! Second, the authors say that if you can’t find superfine sugar you just use a food processor to grind up 1 cup of regular sugar and then measure out your 3/4 a cup. They say that this gives the cookie a “finer crumb and crisper texture.” For ages, I haven’t even bothered to look for the superfine sugar and have done the food processor method. What was I thinking??? Actually, I think I thought that it was some crazy exotic ingredient that I wouldn’t be able to find. It’s not. And it’s worth looking for. I can say though, from experience, if you don’t make your sugar superfine, the cookies are still delicious. Third, the butter really does have to be soft. It will be insanely difficult to make these cookies if it’s not. I once read that Ina Garten said that the best way to go about baking is leaving your butter and eggs out overnight before you start. It sounds kind of gross, but honestly, if the barefoot contessa says it, I’m going to assume it’s true – especially if it pertains to cooking. So yes, leave the butter out overnight. And the cream cheese – I’d leave that out a good while too.
The way I make these and the way they make these varies a little . . . mainly because I’m lazy. And also because I’m too cheap to buy parchment paper. So here is how I do it.
Throw your flour, sugar, and salt into a mixer.
You can make these without a mixer, but honestly after doing it both ways, I wouldn’t ever make these again without one.
Okay, now add the butter one piece at a time with the mixer on medium low until the mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, one to two minutes. What you are doing is called “reverse creaming.” The miracle workers at America’s Test Kitchen say that mixing the butter into the flour sugar mixture rather than the standard method of beating the sugar and butter together and then adding the flour creates a cookie free of air pockets that is easy to decorate. See all the things you can learn from them!! Mine looks like this at this point.
Now add the cream cheese and vanilla until the dough starts to form large clumps. It happens pretty quickly. Now mine looks like this.
Now take the bowl out of the mixing stand and mush all the dough together while still in the bowl so it forms one big mass. Toss it out on to your counter and divide it into two balls. Flatten them a little and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap (and for the love of all things delicious, be smarter than me and don’t buy generic plastic wrap – it’s total crap).
Here’s where the authors and I part ways. They suggest that you put it in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes, then roll the dough out between parchment paper to 1/8 inch thickness, put the flattened dough in the fridge for an additional 10 minutes before cutting out shapes and tossing it in a 375 degree oven. They suggest baking them on the parchment paper for about 10 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Then they let the cookies cool for two minutes on the baking sheet before moving them to a cooling rack. They say that you should only put the dough back together, refrigerate the dough, and re-cut once.
Annnnnnnd, here’s what I do. I put the dough in the refrigerator after wrapping and use that time to eat scraps out of the bowl clean up my counter space for cutting and get out my cookie cutters. As I mentioned, this batch was for someone I love who is super generous. So I wanted to spell out “Thank You” with these awesome cookie cutters. (I got them three million years ago at my bridal shower. I, at the time, suggested to my brother in law that he use them to ask his girlfriend to marry him. He didn’t. But seriously, how cute would that be?? Who wouldn’t want to marry a guy who bakes??) Anyway. I couldn’t find the H!! What the ell??? (Get it? I’m missing my H). So I subbed in an I and turned it on it’s side.
Back to the dough. I probably do keep it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, but then when I take it out, it’s usually too cold for me to roll out. So then it inevitably sits on my counter for a little bit. I throw some flour down (gasp! look away America’s Test Kitchen! look away!!) and put a little more on top of the dough and on the rolling pin before having at it.
Then I throw them in the oven on a cooking spray covered pan (seriously, if an America’s Test Kitchen person ever sees this they are going to come to my house and take away my cookbook and forbid me from ever making one of their recipes again!). I watch them like a mad woman while they are in the oven and turn them midway, and this always still happens with the first batch.
This picture doesn’t really capture the burnt horror. I don’t know why this happens every time. I choose to believe that it is because each cookie shape is a little different and requires a different baking time. Though it’s probably because I’m a negligent baker. These cookies took almost exactly 5 and a half minutes. But bigger cookies take closer to eight minutes in my oven. Maybe I should always only do like two cookies as a test first batch. My later batches looked like this.
I also take them off the baking sheet pretty quickly, so they don’t keep cooking and so I don’t forget about them and then they are glued to the pan. Is this the point in the story where you are scratching your head and wondering how much parchment paper could really cost?
On to their frosting!! It’s great. And it’s just powdered sugar, whole milk, and cream cheese. Whisk two tablespoons of milk with one tablespoon of cream cheese. Then whisk in one and a half cups powdered sugar. Add more milk until it is the consistency that you want.
Now you can seperate it so that you can make it different colors. I like to put mine in a ziploc bag and make cute little designs on my cookies.
I added too much milk, and mine was a bit runny.
But if you do it right, you can get Buddy from Dinosaur Train like I did for my nephew’s birthday this past spring.
Sweet lord that was long. Is anyone still reading? Do you wish I had done the peanut butter and jelly sandwich after all?