Katie’s Sugar Cookies
December 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
This post graces the pages of Dillywheats courtesy of my dear lovely friend Katie, who lives in Chicago and now does things like helps my friend Beth make Sufganiyot, which are Chanukah donuts.
This perfect sugar cookie recipe comes courtesy of Commonwealth Edison. During the 1970 holiday season, the company was kind enough to present is employees and their families with The Christmas Cooky Book: a garishly photographed and illustrated pamphlet (a bit skimpy to be called a book, really) filled with saccharine wonder.
As my uncle worked (and still works) for ComEd, my aunt and mother were both lucky Cooky Book recipients. I’m not sure what drew either of them to the Cooky Book over more established cookbooks of the time, but perhaps it was the quaintly antiquated spelling of “cooky” in the title. Or, perhaps, the curious (and generous) use of pastels to decorate the pages:
As if these pictures weren’t enough, this cookbook also contains what will no doubt go down in history as the greatest sugar cookie recipe of all time, ever, in the world. It’s been my family’s go-to sugar cookie recipe for over forty years, so there you go.
This sugar cookie is simple yet flavorful with the perfect balance of butter and sweetness. Some other sugar cookies might be gussied up with lemon zest or, God forbid, almond extract (please, there is a time and place), but this cookie doesn’t need it. It is the Perfect Cookie, and please don’t let the fact that the major holidays are over discourage you from your baking pursuits. There isn’t a person alive who would refuse a plate of these cookies to help him/her celebrate … say… Father’s Day. Or… Bastille Day. Or don’t let’s tell anyone that you’ve made them and just shovel them all into your own fat little maw. While you’re standing. In your kitchen. At 10:30. On a Saturday night. And maybe you choke on a couple pieces and a hunk you cough up lands on the table and then you eat that too. Relax, you deserve a break.
But I digress. Let us move on to the baking.
1 c butter, room temperature (as the recipe was written in 1970, this means salty butter)
1 c sugar
2 egg yolks (freeze the whites for a rainy day!)
1 t vanilla extract
1/3 c milk (whole, skim, it doesn’t really matter)
½ t salt
1 t baking powder (make sure it’s not expired!)
3 c sifted all-purpose flour
In a large mixing bowl, Cream the butter and sugar together. Perhaps this is a good place to note that I usually mix everything by hand unless a recipe calls for some very aggressive egg whipping. Is this Puritanical of me? Maybe. But if I’m going to the trouble of making something from scratch, I want to really feel like I made something.
Next mix the salt and the rest of the wet ingredients into the bowl and stir to combine.
Now, add the sifted flour and baking powder and mix everything together until it becomes one cohesive mass. Sometimes the dough turns out a little dry and needs a little coaxing and a knead or two from clean warm hands to pull it all together. Do not be ashamed if you need to resort to this, but maybe don’t advertise it much. Some cookie eaters are sensitive to overly manhandled foodstuffs.
Chill the dough overnight (or at least for a few hours). I should add that this is a dough that, while very palatable in its raw state, is actually much tastier after being baked. Remember, patience is a virtue.
Now that your dough is chilled, let’s get down to business. Here’s where things can get a little fussy.
Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Grab a fat fistful of dough and set it on a clean and floured surface. The goal is to roll out the dough pretty thin — the Cooky Book says 1/8 of an inch — but just eyeball it and do the best you can. The key is to keep every surface well floured and to keep the dough on the cool side. If you find that it’s too sticky to work with, put it in the fridge for a little longer and maybe even try rolling it out between two sheets of wax paper (not parchment!). There’s no shame in asking wax paper for help. Because I baked these during one of the many short heat waves we’ve had this summer, I left the oven off while I rolled out the cookies so that my kitchen was as cool as possible.
Once you’ve worked out your rolling situation, cut shapes from the dough using the adorable set of cookie cutters you no doubt own. Failing this, use the floured rim of a drinking glass.
After you cut out your cookies, carefully transfer each one to a cookie sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Or nothing because you forgot. The point is: don’t grease the sheet. Bake for about 7 minutes. Maybe.
Keep an eye on the cookies while they’re baking especially if you’ve lovingly cut them into particularly intricate shapes. These cookies can look fine one second and burn the next and sometimes are done cooking in about 5 minutes. If any of your cookies brown, you should immediately give them to a nearby dad to eat so that there’s no evidence of your grievous error. Dads love cookies but have low cookie standards and thus won’t mind “fixing” your mistakes. If no dads are present, consume yourself. This is called quality control.
Once out of the oven, let them sit on the pan for a couple of minutes, and then set them somewhere else to finish cooling. Growing up, we always lined the kitchen table with torn up brown paper grocery bags and set the cookies there, but now that I see that in writing it looks like I grew up in poverty (but we always had each other). I suppose a wire rack will work just as well. La-di-da!
The dough should turn out a few dozen cookies, but all that depends on how thick you roll it, how large you cut them and, duh, how much dough/baked cookies you eat.
This cookie (ahem, cooky), bland though it may look, is delicious on its own. Even without any kind of colored sugar or icing, it doesn’t taste as though it’s missing anything. In fact, if you’re so inclined, you could even leave these cookies naked. However, who doesn’t love bells and whistles?!
Once your beautiful lightly-golden-not-brown cookies have cooled, it’s time to make ‘em pretty. While you could sprinkle colored sugar on the dough before you bake it, I prefer using frosting (homemade, of course!) instead. I would describe this frosting as something between a buttercream and a glaze: he consistency allows for some intricate decoration, but not much. It’s really the taste that’s important. It’s a perfect fit for these cookies and I would never use anything else. Certainly not royal icing. Hork.
Some powdered sugar (a cup or two?)
Some butter at room temperature (a couple of tablespoons?)
Some milk (keep half a cup on hand?)
For decorating: food coloring, sprinkles, choc chips
I’m going to do something now that you’ll hate: I’m going to tell you that I don’t really have a recipe for the frosting; I just go by how it looks and tastes. I’m sorry. But this is the only recipe I can do this with! Just let me have my one moment of looking like a supremely competent baker full of innate talent! Please? This frosting is so easy though, I promise. Soon, you too will be able to amaze your friends and relations by smiling coyly and saying, “Oh, this frosting? This ol’ thing? I don’t really have a recipe.”
Just remember one thing: you can always add more milk, but you can’t take it out.
(And measure twice, cut once)
(And a penny saved is a penny earned)
(And loose lips sink ships)
In a medium-ish/small-ish bowl, cream some powdered sugar (um, like a cup… or maybe two, I don’t care) with some butter (not a whole lotta butter, just maybe a few tablespoons, or something). When you’re done, it should still look mostly like powdered sugar but maybe a little clumpier here and there.
Now, VERY SLOWLY, stir in some milk till you can form a paste. This is tricky because you don’t want it to be too thin like a glaze, but you also don’t want it to be too thick and unspreadable. GO SLOWLY and use your best judgment. Like I said before, you can always add more milk, but you can’t take it out. (If you get to a point where you really wish you could take it out, try adding some more powdered sugar.)
When (if?) you finally manage to get the right texture, have at those cookies. When I’m frosting cookies, I like to really get creative and let my hair down (and then promptly put it back up because some has inevitably gotten in the frosting). While I think white icing covered in colored sugar turns out the prettiest cookies, I also like to experiment a bit with food coloring and pastry bags.
I don’t like to critique other’s decorating, but is that your best work? Hmm.
Once you’ve finished with the decorating, you must wait until the frosting sets before you serve/eat. Remember, patience is a virtue. Well, maybe you can sample a couple of cookies for quality control purposes. So long as you say the words “quality control” aloud before you eat them, it’s permitted.
Kept in a sealed container, these cookies will last about a week. Flash freezing is also an option.