When new to baking, it can seem really intimidating and scary especially when going to a bakery and seeing all their perfect baked goods.
Sometimes recipes can be really complicated in their techniques but it really doesn’t have to be that difficult.
For baking cookies the first one to master is the sugar cookie; the ultimate crowd favorite that can be decorated and flavored any which way.
It is perfect for any holiday or special occasion and it will taste even better because you made it!
How to Master the Sugar Cookie
It is important for me to share with you my simple steps to achieving high level baking in your homes. Once understanding these steps, you will become a cookie pro too!
Some simple tips are chilling your cookie dough before baking them to prevent spreading and using a whisk to smooth out your flour if you don’t have a sifter.
These are just a few examples of what I am going to be sharing with you throughout this recipe.
Let’s Get Baking!
Before starting the mixer, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt (if you don’t have a sifter, use a whisk in a bowl to smooth out the dry ingredients).
In a stand mixer bowl, add room temperature butter (if your butter is still ice cold no worries, place it in the microwave and heat for 15-30 seconds till soft, not melted) and use a paddle attached to mix till fluffy on medium high.
Then gradually add the granulated sugar to the fluffy butter. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl before moving on to the next step.
Next, gently add the beaten egg and vanilla extract or vanilla paste (a concentrated extract with the vanilla beans inside it, find it here) to the butter mixture. It will start to look like chunky honey mustard dressing that’s okay; you are in a good spot trust me. Continue to scrape down the bowl.
Mix on low and gradually add the sifted (or whisked) dry ingredients to the batter. Continue until you have added half of the dry mixture then add 1 TBSP of milk and finally incorporate all the dry ingredients to the dough.
When the sugar cookie dough is done it should be slightly firm and moist not dry, all the flour should be incorporated.
Before removing the dough, place a piece of plastic wrap onto the counter and place the dough onto the plastic wrap. Wrap the dough tightly in the wrap.
The goal here is to chill the dough quickly to set it before rolling and cutting it into the desired shape, so if you can flatten the dough out and wrap it that would be best.
Place the dough into the fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill properly.
Note: This recipe can easily be doubled or halved to make a small batch. This dough freezes great; it can last in the freezer for one year! How perfect is that! I always have cookie dough in my freezer just in case I need it last minute. I just pull out the desired amount and thaw it in a bowl on my counter for an hour then I continue onto the next steps.
Once the dough has chilled, its time to roll and cut the cookies.
First, prepare a cookie tray with a piece of parchment paper or silicon mat, set aside.
Now preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
On a floured board or a cool marble counter/slab, place the dough and begin to roll out with a wooden rolling pin, roll to ¼” thick.
Make sure the board is well floured to prevent sticking. You can also use powdered sugar to roll out your dough.
Once the dough is at ¼” thick use cookie cutters to make the shapes you want. You can also use an x-acto knife to make an custom stencil cookies.
Place the cut cookie dough onto the prepared cookie tray(s). Set each cookie approximately an inch apart to prevent them from baking together.
Here is my trick to achieve the prefect cookies, once the tray is set up with the cut cookie dough. Place the tray back into the fridge to chill for 10 minutes. To prevent the cookies from spreading and ruining the shape you made.
Now place the tray(s) into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. This time is standard for cookies around 2-3 inches.
The cookies are done when the edges golden brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and let sit for 2 minutes.
After slightly cooling move the cookies to a cooling rack to finish cooling. The reason I do this is to prevent the cookies from over baking on the hot tray. This helps insure you end up with crunchy edges and a soft center.
Once the cookies have cooled properly, it’s time to decorate!
How to Decorate
With sugar cookies you have a delicious blank canvas to start and now its up to you how you want to decorate it.
Traditionally royal icing is used to create those super cute decorations and here is my recipe to teach you how to make it.
I actually make my own homemade marshmallow fondant to decorate the cookies. It tastes delicious like a giant marshmallow and it is actually easier to decorate with as well, it’s a lot more forgiving. You can see that recipe here!
So make several batches of this dough and have it in your freezer year round so you are always ready to share.
Another great tip with this recipes is that it lends itself so well to changing the flavor like adding cinnamon and nutmeg for a fall spice inspired cookie or fresh lemon zest for a tangy treat.
You can even add your favorite jam and sandwich two cookies together, finish with a dusting of powdered sugar,
My favorite memory with sugar cookies is from my childhood. I remember going to the local bakery and putting my face to the bakery case and staring at the sugar cookies.
They were always bright colors and covered in rainbow sprinkles. They tasted of sweet vanilla. I always savored it, taking little bites to make it last longer. Nothing beats food memories like that!
Sugar cookies are a perfect starting point to mastering baking. They can be a canvas to showcase your creativity easily. Remember you don’t have to be a pastry chef to make outstanding sugar cookies!
Simple Sugar Cookies
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
- 1 whole egg
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon milk
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
- extra all-purpose flour powdered sugar for rolling out dough
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg, milk and vanilla extract or paste beat to combine.
Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. If dough looks and feels dry slowly add up to 1 TBSP of milk to moist dough.
Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours. I divide the dough, so one stays cold while I’m working with the other one.
Preheat oven to 350 ° F.
Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. (If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill.)
Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time.
Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or frost with royal icing as desired.
For the extra cookies they can be stored in an airtight container or ziploc bag on the counter. The cookies can last for up to 1 week, if you can’t decorate them right away. My favorite way to decorate cookies is with homemade fondant, it’s really easy to make and tastes way better than store bought. I like this way better because I can I bag the decorated cookies right away.
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