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Monday, December 17, 2012

Sugar Cookies

As with every holiday season, my fingers start itching for the oven once the first tinkles of bells start ringing in the doorways of the little corner stores of NYC. There's just that sentiment of "Winter Wonderland" and "Frosty the Snowman" that make me want to frost up some snowmen of my own. This weekend, since we had time and I didn't feel like studying for the big Geometry test coming up on Monday (joy, proofs!) I went shopping for new holiday cookie cutters.

Now, I'm no newbie to the tradition of Christmas cookies -- ask anyone in my family and they'll tell you all about the horrors of finishing cookies months after the holidays have ended -- but until this year I'd never made cut-outs before. Not one. Sure, I've made sugar cookies, soft shortbreads, gingerbread, chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, almond cookies, candy cane twisted-colorful-naturally-flavored cookie bars, and just about every gluten-based pastry you could think of that was even slightly related to the holidays, but it never crossed my mind that I didn't own even one tiny little cookie cutter. How's that for a baker?

If you ask anyone for the smells of Christmas, vanilla's bound to come up in the top ten, alongside the more popular pine and cinammon. It's common knowledge -- at least in these parts -- that Christmas cookies are an imperative addition to any holiday season. It's like a Christmas tree without a star, a door without a wreath. Where's the fun in that?

I started out by experimenting. About a minute into the recipe, I discovered I was missing a stick of butter -- no doubt my parents had used it for some other recipe I was unaware of. Plus, the butter we did have was partially used, from other experiments with baking and stuff. I made do with my 2.9 sticks of butter, compensating by removing an entire cup of flour. I'd read someplace that more flour makes for crispier (aka dry and hard) cookies while less flour makes for more moist cookies. Not that I'd want shortbread, of course, but I figured that if anything was right, it was the word of the Martha Stewart commenters.

Anyway, I didn't have any trouble until I found out that creaming the butter was a little harder without my trusty egg beater. While I did use the electric mixer in the past, I simply couldn't find it today, this not being my kitchen to begin with. Figuring that there was nothing to lose, I spun a whisk. It kind of worked albeit in a messy splash across the table in random spurts of buttercream kind of way. Fun.

Next, the egg and vanilla. I was thinking about adding some almond extract for some depth in flavor. In the past, I'd made orange and lemon flavored cookies by adding about 2 teaspoons per 50 cookies. Amazing. Maybe I'll try it out on some spring-themed ones.

Another thing: the dough. It was painful to watch, my whisking the dough so amateurishly. First were chips, then they slowly, slowly, slowly clumped together. I started feeling some impatience when they were still barely coming together and I'd been kneading it for almost half an hour. After sometime, and a bit of heat, it came together and was ready to roll out into the awkward mats of doughy goodness that is the birthplace of Christmas cookie heaven.

My first batch of cutouts was pretty awkward -- and not too pretty to look at. I didn't want to take a picture, to spare your eyes, but the dough had been rolled pretty unevenly - and a few of the tender candy canes broke at the curve. That's something I'll keep in mind -- make your candy cane cookies thicker, or else they'll snap in half at the slightest movement!

Afterwards, I lightly decorated them. No need to be too fancy on my first batch after all. They were perfect in my opinion -- almost the same flavor as chocolate chip cookie dough minus the chocolate chips. A bit bland to European standards, but what do they care anyway? I'll be giving some away this holiday for sure!

Sugar Cookies

Yields about 50 cookies (depending on cookie cutters)

  • 2 cups butter (about 4 regular sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 cups flour (plus extra for rolling out the dough)
  1. Cream the butter and sugar.
  2. Add egg and vanilla.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients and slowly add to butter cream mixture until incorporated.
  4. On lightly floured board or table, roll out to desired thickness. 
  5. Cutout even shaped cookies and bake at 400 degrees F for 7-10 minutes.
  6. The bottoms should be slightly browning and the cookies should be light in color.
Thicker dough tends to make softer cookies, while the thinner dough makes crispier ones. Whatever you do, make sure all of the cookies in your batch are the same thickness!

1 comment:

  1. Most yummy indeed. Waiting with anticipation for the spring-themed variety!




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