Saturday, December 26, 2015

Cut-Out Sugar Cookie Tips

A little over a year ago I started hosting cookie decorating playdates and making large batches of cut-out sugar cookies for the holidays. Jackson and I had been making sugar cookies for a few years, but they weren't necessarily the best looking cookies. I've since had plenty of practice and become quite efficient at baking tasty cookies that keep their shape. Here are some tips and tricks I've learned while making several hundred sugar cookies.

My favorite recipe is this one, which make five dozen cookies. I'm posting the link so you can adjust the serving size (click where it says "serving size"), but I'll also copy it below. I love it because it has a short baking time and tastes great. 

  • 1.5 cups of butter (3 sticks)
  • 2 cups of white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. (This takes a few minutes. The butter and sugar should be white, fluffy, and look like icing.)
  2. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
  3. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Cover dough and refrigerate for at least one hour. 
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Roll out dough to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. 
  7. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
  8. Bake for 8 minutes in preheated oven.
Now for some tips I've learned through trial and error:

I normally make the dough the day before so it can chill overnight. I often separate it into two containers. That allows me to work with smaller amounts of dough at a time while the rest can stay chilled. It is so much easier to work with chilled dough! 

I take a container of dough out and set it on the counter for 10-15 minutes. This gives me enough time to get out my cookie cutters, rolling pin, wax paper, etc. (If you only chill your dough for an hour, you don't need to take it out early. I only do this when the dough has refrigerated overnight because it can be hard to roll if it's very firm.)

My number one tip when making cut-out cookies is to roll the dough between two sheets of wax paper. Using flour or powdered sugar makes a mess and dries out your cookies. When rolling the dough, I start in the middle and work my way to the edges, trying to create an even thickness throughout.

I consider it a personal challenge to get as many cookies from one slab of dough as possible.

If your dough is firm and chilled, it will likely stay in the cookie cutter. In this case, it's easy to transfer it onto your baking sheet by gently pushing the dough onto the pan.

If the dough starts to warm up and soften slightly, I leave it on the wax paper and remove all the unused dough surrounding it. (If your dough is too soft, stick it back in the fridge.)

I then put one hand under the bottom wax paper, lift the dough onto my opposite hand, and flip it directly onto the pan. This may seem oddly detailed, but I quickly learned that when I tried to pick the dough up with my fingers or even a spatula, I would stretch the dough and distort the shape. The less you touch the dough, the more likely it will keep its shape.

I prefer to bake cookies on a silicone baking mat. You can also use foil, wax paper, or directly on the cookie sheet. Just pay attention to baking times. Since these cookies bake so quickly, I have three pans going at any given pan baking in the oven, one pan of freshly baked cookies cooling, and one empty pan where I place the next batch of rolled cookie dough. By the time I fill a pan with cut cookie dough and transfer cooled cookies to a wire rack, the oven goes off and I rotate them through again. It takes me just over an hour to roll, cut, and bake five dozen cookies.

I stack all of the cookies once they cool so I can glance and see if I should make more of a certain shape on the next round. Once the last pan is in the oven, I make the icing.

I've used many different icings (buttercream, royal, powdered sugar glaze, etc). My new go-to cookie icing is this one, which combines powdered sugar, milk, light corn syrup, and extract of your choice. I divide the icing in bowls, dye each bowl of icing a different color, then pour it into piping bags or ziploc bags. When I'm ready to let the kids decorate, I simply snip the end off and let the kids enjoy. (Ok, only after I become fixated on arranging cookies on a platter and making everything symmetrical.

In summary,
  • Always work with chilled dough. Warm dough is too sticky and pliable, making it hard to roll out and even harder to hold its shape.
  • Roll dough between two pieces of wax paper. Adding flour and powdered sugar can change the taste and texture of a cookie.
  • Try to touch the dough as little as possible.
  • Have fun baking!

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