This Christmas finds me in a nostalgic sort of mood and this picture brings back fond memories; it was taken after a day of cookie baking and decorating back when my son was little. I originally posted this recipe a number of years ago but I wanted to share it again as it has been a classic in my family’s kitchens for generations. There must be a million recipes for sugar cookies out there but this is ours, still followed from a handwritten recipe card in my late Mom’s recipe box.
Here in England there is more emphasis on heavy desserts at Christmas; Christmas pudding, fruit cake and mincemeat pies, but my favourite things to make at Christmastime are the cookies and squares I remember from when I was a child. There were plate after plate of these sweet treats laid on the buffet after Christmas dinner and I have to confess, they were my favourite part of the meal! The iced sugar cookies almost always disappeared first. Cut out in Christmas shapes, and either sprinkled with sugar before baking or iced afterwards, these flaky cookies are a Christmas classic.
I have not had time to bake sugar cookies yet this year – necessity as well as nostalgia being the reason for the old photograph – but they are on the list for later today and tomorrow, when Christmas baking will start in ernest in our house!
Classic Sugar Cookies
Makes 2 to 3 dozen, depending on the size and shape of the cookies
1 cup butter (softened to room temperature)
1 ½ cups sifted icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups plain (all purpose) flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the egg and stir to mix. Sift together the flour, soda and cream of tartar. Blend into the butter and egg mixture. Shape the mixture into a ball and put in the refrigerator for at least two hours, longer if possible.
Preheat the oven to about 350ºF or about 160ºC (150ºC for fan ovens). Ovens can vary wildly so do go carefully, and err on the side of caution. You can always bake the cookies a little longer. Line baking sheets with greaseproof paper (wax paper). Divide the dough in half, putting one half back in the refrigerator.
Roll out one half of the dough on a floured surface to about a quarter inch thick. Now for the fun part! Cut out shapes using Christmas cookie cutters. Carefully remove the shapes and place them on the baking trays. Half the dough should fill two baking trays. You can re-roll the scraps and cut them out as well, but only do this once or twice or the dough will get very tough.
Place the two baking trays in the oven for about 10 minutes, switching the trays from one oven rack to the other half way through. Cooking time will depend on your oven. The cookies should be just beginning to go golden on the edges. Don’t overcook them; we are aiming for a pale cookie. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them sit for a minute or two. Now carefully remove them from the baking trays and place them on wire racks to cool.
Meanwhile, remove the remaining dough from the refrigerator. Roll out, cut out and bake as above.
When the cookies are at room temperature, frost and decorate them as desired. You can make an easy icing from 1 cup icing sugar and 1 to 3 tablespoons milk, cream or water. Add the liquid to the icing sugar a bit at a time until a fairly thick but spreadable consistency is reached. Add ½ tsp flavouring (try vanilla, lemon, peppermint or almond) if you like. You can also add a drop of food colouring if desired.
I always like to ice the entire cookie in one colour and then sprinkle with decorative sprinkles or coloured sugars, but let your creativity be your guide and have fun!
If you are in a hurry and don’t want the fiddle of frosting the cookies, sprinkle them with fine white sugar before baking. Superfine or caster sugar works best. They cook up a bit more golden but it gives you pretty and delicious cookies fast.