Sugar cookies, the hallmark of the holiday season, are so reassuring in their simplicity: flour, sugar, eggs, butter, a pinch of salt & vanilla. It’s the arrangement (and the temperature) of those ingredients that counts: are the cookies chalky or bland? Buttery or sweet? Crisp edges or soft and chewy? I think this recipe hits the proverbial sweet spot: lots of flavor and a crisp (but not teeth-cracking) texture that holds it shape well, an ideal canvas for cookie cutters. If the dough’s kept cool (pop the baking sheet with your cut-out dough into the fridge if the kitchen’s warm) they’ll keep a tight, tidy edge, so your stockings won’t look like swimming pools or your stars like snowballs.
And while these might technically be called sugar cookies, with such a generous addition of butter (that is no typo, friends), this recipe could easily meander into shortbread or butter cookie territory. Using a high-quality butter goes a long way here. As a variation, you can add a bit of grated orange or lemon zest (omit the vanilla), or a splash of amaretto or brandy for extra flavor.
An artful application of royal icing elevates these otherwise humble cookies into pâtisserie-worthy confections (provided you have a steady hand and ample patience), but a quick dusting of colored sugar sprinkles before baking is all they really need. Merry and bright, indeed.
Best Sugar Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart’s The Baking Handbook; makes about 3 dozen
- 4 sticks of good butter, cool room temperature
- 3 C sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 5 C all-purpose flour
- frosting, sugar sprinkles or royal icing
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high until light and creamy, about five minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the eggs, salt and vanilla and mix to combine. With the mixer on low, add about half of the flour and combine. Add the remaining half and mix until incorporated.
Transfer (in 2-3 batches) to large rectangles of plastic wrap. Wrap and smush down to flatten into flat planes of dough about 1/2″ thick. Refrigerate until ready to use; the dough will last about a week in the fridge and freezes well.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Dust a bit of flour on your work surface and rolling pin, and roll out the cool-but-pliable dough to a thickness of about 1/4″. (If the whole thing cracks when you roll it out, let it warm a bit and continue.) With a cookie cutter, cut out desired shapes. If the dough warms up, place your baking sheet in the fridge for a few moments to chill the cookies (about 10-15 minutes); you’ll want them cool to the touch when going in the oven. Re-roll the scraps and continue.
Sprinkle with colored sanding sugar, if desired, and bake for 12-15 minutes until firm and lightly golden brown along the edges. Let cool on the pan for five minutes and transfer to a wire cooling rack. When completely cool, decorate with frosting or royal icing. The baked cookies will keep well, wrapped tightly at room temperature, for about three days.