An online friend posted this recipe last year and another friend, Elizabeth DeBarros, posted photos of these cookies in their final, too-pretty-to-eat state. They gave me permission to share this, because I thought Hope Blog readers might want to try them.
PERFECT SUGAR COOKIES
2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, at room temp
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temp
1. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With mixer running on low, add butter 1 piece at a time; continue to mix until mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, about 1 minute longer. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix on low until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds.
2. Remove bowl from mixer; knead dough by hand in bowl for 2 to 3 turns to form large cohesive mass. Turn out dough onto countertop; divide in half, pat into two 4-inch disks, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate until they begin to firm up, 20 to 30 minutes. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 weeks; defrost in refrigerator before using.)
3. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out 1 dough disk to even 1/8-inch thickness between 2 large sheets parchment paper; slide rolled dough on parchment onto baking sheet and chill until firm, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with second disk.
4. Working with first portion of rolled dough, cut into desired shapes using cookie cutter(s) and place shapes on parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until light golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Repeat with second portion of rolled dough. (Dough scraps can be patted together, chilled, and re-rolled once.) Cool cookies on wire rack to room temperature.
The only thing I would add as a tip to making these cookies is that once your cookies are cut out and on the cookie sheet, you should freeze them for about 5-10 minutes. That keeps the edges nice and defined when baking.
Royal icing is recommended. It dries very hard and holds its shape well.
If you’re not used to using royal icing, you can use Wilton Cookie Icing that comes in a plastic container. You just heat the icing while it’s in the plastic bottle, and pipe it out through the top. It dries nice and hard like royal icing.
(The recipe is from Cooks Illustrated, so it’s all about the science of cooking.)
Here’s an explanation of the recipe and method:
Published Nov 1, 2003.
Rolling out cookie dough is a sticky business. Most recipes add excess flour, and the resulting cookies are tough. Could we make tender, crispy cookies that roll out easily?
Every year when we bake holiday cookies we are reminded why we only do so once a year. The dough clings to the rolling pin, it rips and tears as it is rolled out, and the tactic of moving the dough in and out of the refrigerator to make it easier to work with turns a simple, one-hour process into a half-day project.
A simple recipe that would yield a forgiving, workable dough, producing cookies that would be sturdy enough to decorate yet tender enough to be worth eating.
Use enough butter to stay true to the nature of a butter cookie but not so much that the dough becomes greasy (shortening adds no flavor to cookies and is not an option). All-purpose flour has enough gluten to provide structure, while superfine sugar provides a fine, even crumb and a compact, crisp cookie—definitely positive attributes. Cream cheese—a surprise ingredient—gives the cookies flavor and richness without altering their texture. For a dough that’s incredibly easy to handle, use the “reverse” creaming method: incorporate slightly softened—not melted—butter into the flour and sugar. (Standard creaming involves whipping butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy, then adding eggs and dry ingredients.)