Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sugar Cookie Dough


Decorating sugar cookies during the holiday season is a simple pleasure for both children and parents. I still remember the decorating station my mother would set-up for my sister and me, icing, sprinkles, and cookies galore.  Armed with a mug of hot cocoa, we were entertained for hours.

But sometimes, the hectic pace of the season can make mixing up sugar cookie dough seem more like a task than an enjoyable tradition.

After I started decorating sugar cookies and subsequently receiving not-so-subtle requests from my friends, I learned to always keep at least one batch of this recipe on hand. While sugar cookie dough only keeps for a few days in the refrigerator, it can, gloriously, be frozen for up to three months.

Let's start with the butter. Assuming you are making up the dough with minimal free time, take your butter directly from the refrigerator and cube into small pieces. Place the cubed butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. On medium speed, paddle until butter is softened, about 5 minutes.


Since room temperature ingredients are ideal for doughs, we also need to get the eggs to a comfortable room temperature.

While you are softening your butter, simply place eggs in lukewarm water, where they will stay until you are ready to incorporate them into the dough.


After 5 minutes on the mixer, your butter will be pale and softened, just as if you had remembered to bring the butter to room temperature hours before!


Now it's time to incorporate a healthy dose of granulated sugar into the butter. These are sugar cookies after all!

Paddle the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.


While the butter and sugar are incorporating, you can gather the remaining ingredients.

Whisk your dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, crack your eggs, and measure out your vanilla.


When the butter and sugar are fully incorporated, add eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Incorporate dry ingredients, mixing just until a dough forms.

Now, divide the cookie dough in thirds, and shape each portion into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap, label with date, and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. If not using the dough within a few days, wrap the chilled dough discs in aluminum foil, place in freezer-safe bag, and freeze for up to 3 months.


So if you have an extra 10 minutes this weekend, but do not plan to decorate cookies until the big day is a big closer, follow this visual guide and recipe to make your decorating days more enjoyable.

And, of course, be sure to check back in the coming days for cookie decorating ideas!


Sugar Cookie Dough
adapted from Martha Stewart Cookies
makes about 3 dozen 4-inch cookies

12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for surface and more if needed
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt

Preparation Instructions
Prepare Dough: In a bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar with on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and table salt. Set aside.

When butter and sugar is fully incorporated, beat in eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture.

Turn out dough, and divide in thirds. Flatten each portion into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight. If freezing dough, wrap in aluminum foil, place in freezer-safe bag, and freeze up to 3 months.

To Bake Cookies: Preheat oven to 325°F. Let one disk of dough stand at room temperature just until soft enough to roll, about 10 minutes. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to just under 1/4-inch thick, adding more flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Chill in refrigerator until firm, about 30 minutes. Cut out cookies using desired cutters or templates. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets as you work. Roll out scraps, and repeat once. Repeat with remaining disk of dough. Chill cookies in freezer until very firm, about 15 minutes.

Bake cookies, switching positions of sheets and rotating halfway through, until edges turn golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

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