Over two decades of baking, and
obsessively enthusiastically decorating cutout sugar cookies, I've tried a handful of recipes. None were a total flop; at the same time, none deserved a repeat performance. The recipes I tried were either too finicky, with dough that goes soft, sticky, and unmanageable after one roll-out; were bland — sure, much of the joy in these cookies is in their decor, but they should also taste great; or made cookies that puffed up and lost their precise cutout shapes.
This recipe, from Alton Brown, avoids all of those common cutout cookie pitfalls. I don't often like to claim that a recipe is "the best" or "perfect," but this one is about as close as it gets. The dough is dreamily easy to roll out — scraps can be rerolled multiple times (lightly dusted with flour each time) without additional chilling — and the cookies are legitimately delicious, even without icing.
The cookie dough can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and refrigerated, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. To plan further ahead, transfer plastic-wrapped dough rounds to a resealable plastic freezer bag and freeze for up to 6 months; thaw overnight before baking. Once baked, the cookies will stay fresh for up to 1 week in an airtight container.
Keep a close eye on these cookies as they bake, as they can go from perfectly cooked to brown and crisp in as little as a minute.
If you don't want to fuss with royal icing, adhere sprinkles with egg wash: whisk together one egg white with a splash of water, brush on unbaked dough with a pastry brush, add sprinkles, and bake.
- 3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 24 ounces powdered sugar, sifted
- 3 large egg whites
- Red and green gel food coloring (or hues of your choosing)
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
- Using a stand or hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, until light in color. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, and beat to combine. Add the flour in 2 additions; beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl.
- Divide the dough in half, shape into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper or a Silpat.
- Dust a clean countertop with flour; dust a rolling pin with flour as well. Using 1 half of the dough at a time, roll out the dough until it is 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. Cut into desired shape, carefully transfer to the prepped pans, placing the cookies 1 inch apart. (If the dough sticks to the cookie cutters, first dust them in flour before stamping out.) Press the dough scraps together and reroll and cut out cookies until all of the dough has been used.
- Bake for 7-9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown on their bottoms, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let the cookies firm up for 2 minutes on the pan, then carefully transfer to a cooling rack. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.
- While the cookies cool, combine the powdered sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed using the paddle attachment until completely blended and the icing holds a ribbon-like trail on the surface of the mixture for 5 seconds when you raise the paddle. If it's too thick, add water 1 teaspoon at a time; if it's too thin, add powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until it reaches the desired thickness. Divide the icing into 3 bowls (one for white icing, one for red, and one for green). Transfer about 1/3 of the white icing to a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip (we used a #3). Cover the remaining icing tightly so that it won't dry out and harden.
- Pipe a border of icing around all the parts of the cookies that you want to decorate with white icing. While the border hardens on the cookies, thin out the remaining white icing with a little water until it's a spreadable consistency. Working 1 cookie at a time — the icing hardens fast — use a small offset spatula to spread the thinned-out icing within the icing borders. Decorate with sprinkles.
- Working one color at a time, tint the red and then green icing using a few drops of red and green gel color, respectively. (Always keep icing not in use tightly covered, so it won't dry out.) Follow the same piping, spreading, and decorating steps as with the white icing.
- Allow the icing to dry and harden completely before storing or stacking the cookies.
- Desserts, Cookies
- About 20 cookies (depends largely on the cookie cutters used)