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When I was a kid, we made sugar cookies twice a year—for Christmas and Valentine’s Day. We—five kids and Mom–gathered around the kitchen table with bowls of frosting and decorations. Some of those cookies were pretty and some were messy but we had a blast.
We ate the cookies because they were covered in frosting. Other than that, they weren’t too memorable. They were plain vanilla.
They don’t have to be plain vanilla. Start with the frosting. In our store, we sell flavored sugar cookies such as cherry, raspberry, and key lime. We put both flavor and color in the cookies and then we flavor the icing. We put meringue powder in the icing so that it’s firm and doesn’t mar easily. We put more flavor in the icing than we do in the cookies. (The heat of the oven is hard on flavors.)
Jen, in our test kitchen, prefers buttercream frosting. I like to “doctor up” powdered sugar icing.
You can do the same, but you can do even more. You can spice them, color them, add dried fruit or nuts, or maybe chocolate chips or raspberry bits.
Here are some variations to make sugar cookies more than ordinary.
Chocolate Sugar Cookies. I like chocolate. So, my first choice is for chocolate sugar cookies. A fudgy sugar cookie with dark, fudgy frosting is my perfect sugar cookie. You’ll find a great mix here.
Cinnamon Chip Sugar Cookies. Depending on the size of your recipe, add 3/4 to one cup of cinnamon chips to your dough. Add them at the end and don’t beat longer than necessary.
Raspberry, Strawberry, or Blueberry Sugar Cookies. Add blueberry, raspberry, or strawberry for splashes of color and a burst of flavor.
Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookies. Depending on the size of your recipe, add 3/4 to one cup of chocolate chips to your dough. Add them at the end.
Cranberry Nut Sugar Cookies. Depending on the size of your recipe, add 3/4 cup finely chopped cranberries and 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts to the dough.
Spiced Sugar Cookies. Add a teaspoon of good quality cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon ginger.
Zested Orange, Lemon, or Lime Sugar Cookies. Add a tablespoon of zest and a teaspoon of orange flavor, lemon flavor, or lime flavor to your cookies.
How to Make the Best Sugar Cookies
Everyone loves sugar cookies for special holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter, Halloween, and others; but sugar cookies don’t always turn out right. We’ve compiled this list of tips and techniques to help you make the very best sugar cookies.
Measure ingredients accurately, especially the flour. Too much flour will make your cookies hard and dry. If you scoop the flour with the measuring cup instead of spooning sifted flour into your cup, you are likely to have 20% too much flour.
Sugar cookies are made by the creaming method. This is the most important step in making sugar cookies—it incorporates the air into the dough that acts as a leavening agent. Use the paddle attachment of your electric mixer to cream the sugar, salt, and spices with the butter or shortening. Cream the ingredients together at low speed, not high. For light cookies, cream the mixture until it’s light and fluffy. For a denser, moister cookie, cream only until the mixture is paste-like.
Add the eggs and liquid after creaming, beating these in at low speed.
Mix the flour into the creamed mixture only until it’s combined. If you over-mix, you will develop the gluten and make a tougher cookie.
Choose a low protein flour, preferably pastry flour, for your sugar cookies. Avoid bread flours with their high protein content. All-purpose flour is an acceptable compromise.
If the dough is too soft to work easily, chill it until firm. The dough should be pliable but not squishy soft. Handling of the dough with warm hands will make the dough soft.
Use no more flour than necessary to dust the counter. The flour will work into the dough for a drier, tougher cookie.
Too much re-rolling will make for tougher cookies. Not only does successive re-rolling work the dusting flour into the dough, the continued working of the dough develops the gluten.
When cutting shapes, make the cuts as close together as you can to minimize the amount of dough that will need to be re-rolled.
Most recipes call for the dough to be rolled to 1/8 inch in thickness. This creates a crisp cookie. For a moister, less crisp cookie, roll the dough to 1/4 inch only.
Remove the cookies from the counter with a thin metal spatula.
When garnishing cookies with sprinkles, drop the decorations from a height of eight or ten inches for a more even distribution.
The size of the cookies will affect bake times. Put like-sized cookies on the same sheet.
Do not over bake cookies. Thin cookies will bake in seven or eight minutes at 350 degrees. Thicker cookies will take ten or twelve minutes. Cookies on darker pans will bake in less time. When done, the cookies will still be pale-colored with just a tinge of brown at the edges.
Cool cookies on a wire rack. Do not frost them until they are completely cooled.
About the Author
Dennis Weaver has burned food from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Miami, Florida. He is the founder of The Prepared Pantry in Rigby, Idaho and the author of “How to Bake: The Art and Science of Baking” available as an E-book or as a Kindle book on Amazon. Dennis lives in Rigby, Idaho, with his wife, Merri Ann. They have five wonderful children and six beautiful granddaughters.