Growing up, we made sugar cookies every year. A Christmas without them just isn’t the same. So this year I was thrilled that my daughter was old enough to join in the cookie decorating fun. She’s really into Rudolph right now, so she especially enjoyed decorating our reindeer cookies, but we also made trees and snowflakes. I was glad to carry on a family tradition that always reminds me of my mom and sister, my mom’s dark orange Betty Crocker cookbook, and the well-worn tin cookie cutters, so familiar even though we only used them once a year.
My recipe is an updated version of the classic cookie and comes from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. One great improvement (sorry, Betty) is that you roll the dough while it’s soft. Stuck between the parchment, it’s a breeze to roll and takes a lot of the stress out of rolling butter cookies, which seem to wilt seconds after they are out of the fridge. It also means that you can remove the dough from the fridge and cut and decorate right away.
Classic Sugar Cookies (adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food)
16 tablespoons room temperature butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon (or more!) lemon zest
1 room temperature egg
2 tablespoons milk
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with regular beaters, beat the butter on medium speed until it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy. With beater on low add the vanilla, salt, zest, egg and milk one at a time. Then add half of the flour, beat on low until combined, and then add the other half.
Separate the dough into two rounds. Lay out 4 large pieces of parchment paper. Light flour one sheet and place a dough round in the center. Lightly flour the dough and place a second sheet on top. Roll the dough between the sheets of parchment until the dough is uniformly 1/4″ thick. Place the dough flat on a cookie sheet and refrigerate. Do the same for the second round. Let the dough chill for at least a half-hour.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay out a clean piece of parchment paper and dust lightly with flour. Remove one of the dough flats from the refrigerator and carefully peel off the top layer of parchment. Flip it onto the clean parchment and then remove the remaining layer of parchment. Cut the dough out with cookie cutters, keeping and re-rolling any spare dough. Place the shapes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and decorate with sprinkles and red hots. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the cookies have puffed up and are just starting to turn golden.