sugar cookiesIt's T-minus four days until Christmas. HAVE YOU MADE THE SUGAR COOKIES? C'mon, the kids want to. My son and I made a small batch of sugar cookies this weekend. They turned out fine -- but man am I NOT a natural baker! So many mistakes to make, so many reasons to slip out of the Christmas spirit and jump right into Talk Like a Pirate Day: "#$%ing, @#$%y cookie dough can just #$%@ itself!"

Does this sound familiar? I'm talking to the nervous bakers here -- you know who you are. I'm one, too. But don't worry, we'll get through this together. Here are my most reliable perfect sugar cookie tips.

  1. Make sure all your ingredients are room temperature before mixing together the dough.
  2. Measure everything out exactly and level off ingredients with a butter knife. Ooh, this is my least favorite thing about baking -- getting all those measurements exactly right. But it's worth the trouble.
  3. Use unsalted butter, not salted table butter. Okay, it is possible to make sugar cookies with table butter. I've done it. But the cookies turn out better if you use unsalted.
  4. If you like a cookie that's more soft than crisp, use half butter and half shortening. Personally, I prefer an all-butter cookie (it tastes much better). Also, I think "butter-flavored" shortening just adds artificial weirdness to the overall flavor. (Actually, I can believe it's not butter.) Just use the regular stuff.
  5. Don't worry about mixing your butter and sugar together until they're "light and fluffy." That can result in cookies that spread more in the oven. Just mix until well blended.
  6. Don't over-mix the dough once you've added the dry ingredients. Get it all mixed together and then stop.
  7. When you're done mixing, divide your dough into smaller batches, maybe four. Roll each into a little ball, flatten that ball, and then wrap each batch separately in cling wrap.
  8. Chill your dough at least 2 hours in the refrigerator before using. Every recipe tells you to do this because IT WORKS. Otherwise, you get mushy, sticky dough that's hard to work with.
  9. Try not to use a ton of flour to roll out your dough. Just a tiny sprinkle on the counter and your rolling pin will do.
  10. Or, use powdered sugar instead of flour to roll out your dough.
  11. Or, roll out your dough between sheets of waxed or parchment paper. Scrape off the "scraps" with a spatula, roll back into a ball, and put back into the refrigerator while you move on to another chilled batch of dough.
  12. Dust off your cookie cutters in flour between takes.
  13. Rotate baking sheets halfway through baking to cook evenly.
  14. Make sure those cookies cool completely before frosting. "Duh!" you say? I've done it. The frosting just melts all over.
  15. Know the difference between icing and frosting: Icing is thinner and usually made with powdered sugar whisked with a little milk. Use it if you're decorating with sprinkles. Frosting is thicker. Don't go overboard if you're using frosting -- you could break the cookie with the weight.
  16. I love sanding sugar. Look for it at specialty baking shops. It's not a requirement for sugar cookies, but it does give them a glittery elegance you don't get from regular sprinkles.

Now bake away, bake away, bake away all!

Do you love or dread holiday baking? What are your tips?

 

Image via Oakley Originals/Flickr