Favorite recipes : sugar cookies

I have been on a cookie making craze lately, and because I am just a beginner, I still have to find my favorite recipes, for cookies and royal icing. 
made some Android cookies, because we live in Silicon Valley and AnDevCon is this week

After trying a shortbread cookie recipe, I decided I would rather stick to the classic sugar cookie, so I concentrated on that.
Many many pounds of butter, flour and sugar later, and batch after batch of cookies baked, decorated and mostly eaten, this recipe I am sharing with you today seem to work best for me so far. 

Since I started making cookies, I did not make the same recipe twice, so each series was different. I kept playing with the amounts of the ingredients, and using different types of sugars and butters... my whole kitchen was overtaken by cookies! I needed a cookie that was tasty, soft but also kept it's shape. Harder to do, than I thought. Still working on it.  I will update this post whenever I will find a better recipe/method.

So here it is:

Sugar cookie recipe (makes about 24 3 inch cookies)


1. 4 sticks of butter ( 2 cups, 16 oz, 1 pound or  453 grams). The butter must be slightly soften, but still cold. I just take the butter out of the fridge and leave it on the counter for 15-20 minutes, not more.  Use good quality butter with high fat percentage. I like to use Plugra brand butter. 

2. 2 cups (250 grams) sugar. 

3. 2 large eggs, cracked in a separate bowl, lightly beaten.

4. 1 tablespoon pure vanilla bean paste. You can use the seeds of a whole vanilla bean, or one tablespoon pure vanilla extract. Just make sure you use a natural, pure vanilla, and not some imitation stuff (yuk). I like using vanilla bean paste, because I love seeing the vanilla seeds in my cookies, and is much cheaper than using vanilla beans. 

5. 5 cups of all purpose flour, sifted in a separate bowl, and set aside

6. 1 pinch fine sea salt (optional, but it does help adding salt to any baked product) Sift this with your flour. 

Note: you can substitute or add other flavorings on top of the vanilla , like almond extract (few drops),  1 tablespoon of Grand Marnier liqueur, lemon or orange zest  (1-2 tablespoons),  some cardamom, cinnamon ...whatever you like, really.


In the bowl of your stand mixer (hand mixer works just as fine) fitted to the paddle attachment add the butter, cut in 1-2 inch cubes, and the sugar, and cream for not more than 1 minute. You just need to mix  them together and incorporate, not more. This is important! If you beat it for longer you incorporate more air in the dough, and the cookies won't hold the shape while baking ;)

Beat lightly the eggs and flavorings, add to the butter and mix just until combined.

Add the flour and salt mixture, and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds up to a minute, until the flour is barely incorporated, and the dough starts to cling to the paddle. Don't over work the dough, so the cookies stay soft. 

Transfer dough onto your work surface, dusted lightly with confectioner's sugar.  It is usual to use flour for this, but I prefer sugar. Adding flour while rolling out the dough might make it tougher, because the flour will be assimilated in the dough, so with sugar you don't have this problem! I have my confectioner's sugar jar near by, and using a small sifter, or tea infuser, I dust my work surface with it.
Shape the dough into a rough ball, cut it in half. 

Take each half, shape it into a somewhat square shape. I don't know why but I prefer my dough to be square when rolled out, but of course round is just as fine. Don't knead the dough, be gentle. 
Place the dough onto a large parchment paper, or even clear plastic wrapping foil, dusted with confectioner's sugar. If you have a silicon mat, place it under the parchment paper, so it does not slide while rolling, or lightly wet your work surface, so that the paper kind of stick to it. Rolling the dough onto a parchment paper will make it very easy for you to handle it later, without breaking it.

Dust some more confectioner's sugar on top of the dough, so the rolling pin does not stick. 
Using a rolling pin roll out the dough to a 1/3 , 1/4 inch thickness. I like the cookies to be thicker, as they keep their shape better and are also softer after baking, but mostly because biting into a fat cookie is awesome.

The easiest for me to roll out the dough is to start with the rolling pin in the middle of the dough, and gently roll one time away from you, then lift, place the pin in the center again, and roll towards yourself. Do this a few times until the dough is thinner, about 1/2 inches. you can roll in a continuous up and down motion after this point. If you shaped the dough in a square at the beginning, you will end up with a rectangular shaped dough sheet. 

 I find using rolling pin spacer bands like these to be very useful, so my dough has the same thickness all over. These are like really fat silicon bands, that come in different sizes, and you attach them to your rolling pin's ends. Makes it so much easier! 

Transfer the rolled out dough, with the parchment paper onto a pan, or even a large cutting board, whatever you have on hand that will fit the whole sheet of dough, cover with plastic wrap on top, and place it in the refrigerator for at least one hour. 
Repeat same process with the second half of the dough. 

It is best to work in a cool environment, so the butter in the dough does not soften too much. A cooled marble pastry board and pin would be ideal, but I don't have that. Just make sure your kitchen is not very warm, and work as fast as you can. Cool dough is much easier to roll and handle. If you notice the dough is too soft and gets sticky, wrap it well in plastic or place in a bag, and keep in the fridge for 10-15 minutes, then roll it. 

Many recipes advise to chill the dough before rolling it out for at least one hour. I like to roll out my dough right away, because I have no patience to wait for it one extra hour, and because when it is very cool/firm it cracks while rolling it. Then you have to wait a while for it to get softer... and so on. So I just skip this step. 

Prepare your baking sheets (you will need 2 or 3 if you have), lining them with parchment paper. I also like to chill them in the fridge or freezer, while the dough also chills. 

After the dough sheets have been in the fridge for at least one hour, take them out, and start cutting out your shapes. For more complicated shaped and delicate cookies, I like to place the cutter on the dough, press straight down with your palms, then lift the dough without removing the cookie cutter, and even using an offset spatula using it as a helper to transfer the cut cookie to the baking sheet. Then gently remove the cutter. Take extra care for thin parts of the cookie, so they don't break. If the dough is thoroughly chilled is easy to handle.  
If you are making round or square cookies you can just cut out all of them, then transfer them easily.
If you make many different shaped cookies at once, place all your cookie cutters at the same time on the dough sheet, close to one another, so that you fit as many as possible at once. Using your both palms, press on them. It is best to do this because you want as little dough scraps to be left behind. The dough scraps will be rerolled, to make other cookies, and if you do this many times, your last cookies will get tough, from all the extra kneading and rolling. So we want to have to do this as few times as possible.

I like to place 12 medium ( 3 inch ) cookies on a baking sheet, 4 rows of 3 cookies. Just make sure they have 1-2 inches of space between them, for even baking and to avoid them sticking to one another, as they can get little larger while baking. 

So now that your cookies are cut and placed on the baking sheets, place them in the freezer, with the baking sheet, for at least 15 minutes (max 30), or in the fridge for at least one hour! This will also help them retain their shape while baking. 

Preheat oven to 350-360 degrees F (180 C). Checking the accurate oven temperature is a good idea, and adjust it accordingly, with the use of an oven thermometer, as many ovens are not very precise. Do not bake cookies bellow 350 degrees F.

While oven is heating and cookies are chilling, re-roll your dough scrapes, and repeat the chilling/cutting process. 

If you have only one or two baking sheets, you can place the cut cookies on a parchment paper on a clean cutting board, in the fridge, while the first batch is baking. Just make sure that after you remove the baked cookies from the pan, to cool/chill the pan before placing and baking the new batch. 

Take out the pans from the freezer and place directly in the preheated oven. Bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies, until lightly golden edges. I bake 2 pans at a time. 
Let them cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack, and cool completely before decorating. You can also decorate them the second day. 

You can store cookies in an airtight container, at room temperature for 2-3 weeks. 
Hope this post will help other beginner bakers. Baking and decorating cookies is so much fun, please give it a try!
Royal icing recipe coming soon! 

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