Friday, December 4, 2009
Cut-out sugar cookies
Do you ever have a day when you feel like are constantly reminding yourself to do this and that, and then realize you did none of those things? Mm hmm. Yesterday, I set my running shoes by my work bag while making French toast (yes, it was delicious) and said to myself, "Katy, you are wearing your boots to work today, since it's raining, when you normally walk in your sneakers. Here are your sneakers. Remember to take these so you can go to the gym after work."
After a decent work day, I changed into my gym clothes only to realize that I left my running shoes at home... right where I should've remembered them. Boo! This was the second day in a row that I skipped the gym for a stupid reason. Two nights ago I went home and attempted to do an exercise video, but that was an utter failure -- this will be detailed more in the cinnamon bread post to come. But last night, skipping the gym was a blessing in disguise. Honestly, all I wanted to do was bake. Some people nap, others indulge in vices, I fling sugar and flour around my kitchen like it's some culinary version of Jackson Pollock's work. (Hey, it's therapeutic for me.) And, luckily, the dough for these cookies was already chilled in the fridge. It's like I know myself so well!
I'll be the first to admit that sugar cookies take a bit of work. The mixing of ingredients is easy, but the chilling, rolling, cutting and careful watching of the oven turns some people off to the idea of making these from scratch. It's then that I hear people resort to the greasy tasteless doughs in tubes or just-add-water packets. Slather some icing on the cookies, and they are marginal at best. But without the icing, they taste like cardboard, my friends. Don't do it! Take the time to make these and I promise you, you'll be glad you did. You'll never go back to the cheap stuff. This is another one of Martha's recipes, and if you like buttery-vanilla chewy sugar cookies, this is your recipe. Just trust me, truuuuuuuuuust me.
I hope I've given you the courage to make sugar cookies from scratch. Seriously, don't be scared. It's not that hard. Just requires a little patience... and crap, if I can do it, you can, too!
The Absolute Best Sugar Cookies in the Entire Universe
(from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, her title may differ slightly)
-depending on shape, makes about 3 dozen cookies
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1½ tsp salt
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
colored sanding sugar or sprinkles, for decorating (optional)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, vanilla, and salt; mix on medium-high speed until combined. With mixer on low speed, add flour in two batches, mixing until just incorporated.
Turn out dough onto a clean work surface. Divide in half, and pat into flattened rectangles; wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week. (Note: Almost always, I make the dough one night, chill overnight, and bake the cookies the next day. Keep in mind that the dough must be chilled before a batch of cookies can go into the oven, so allow for enough time... unless you want to be up until midnight making cookies, which, quite honestly, sounds like a great night to me!)
Remove dough from refrigerator in order to thaw a bit. (This step is important or your dough will crack at first. Don't worry, if you're impatient like me, the warmth of your hands and the rolling pin will soften the dough so it no longer cracks.) Preheat oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle of the oven. Line at at least two (or three if you have them) large baking sheets with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one rectangle of dough to a scant ¼-inch thickness. Using cookie cutters dipped in flour, cut out shapes. Using a small offset spatula, transfer shapes to prepared sheets, placing about 2 inches apart.
Chill one sheet in freezer or refrigerator until firm, about 15 minutes. (This may seem like an unnecessary step, but if you want evenly baked cookies, just do it.) Set scraps aside. Repeat process with remaining rectangle of dough and place shapes on second cookie sheet, chill. Gather all the scraps, and roll out again. Chill 15 minutes; cut out more shapes, and place on sheets. (Using two sheets is great because when one is ready for the oven, the next is ready to go into the freezer.)
Decorate cookies with colored sugar or sprinkles, if using, before baking. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden around the edges and slightly firm to the touch, about 15 minutes.
(Really REALLY watch the cookies here, unless you like them brown and crunchy... then, by all means, pay no attention at all. I usually set my timer for 7 minutes, rotate the sheet, 7 minutes more, and check from there until they are at the color I desire.) Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. I made these for a friend's Christmas party, so I plated them on disposable trays to take with me:
Quick tip #1 -- This dough can be frozen, tightly wrapped in plastic and in a large resealable plastic bag, for up to three months (or at least I've only tested it this far).
Quick tip #2 -- If you are really not into the shapes, roll the dough into a log, wrap in plastic. Whenever you want to bake cookies, let log sit out at room temperature for 10 minutes. With a sharp knife, slice cookies and place onto cookie sheet to bake. Easy!