The Holy Grail of Sugar Cookies

After my last plans to bake sugar cookies fell through, I charged forth with zeal in my plans for baking Harry Potter themed cookies for a pre-viewing party that L and I had yesterday. I baked and froze the cookies last weekend so that I could focus on the main course (pizza, I’ll get to that soon!) and decorating the cookies this weekend. I bought the ingredients, drew out my sketches, and got all ready for The Big Day. And then, the heat rolled in. Suddenly, the heat made me break a sweat for more reasons than one: I started to wonder if I even could decorate sugar cookies with royal icing on a day like that. My house is not air conditioned, and the humidity was unbelievable. I almost threw the towel in for the second time in a row, when a light bulb went off – L’s kitchen has a window a/c unit! I called him up, packed up my tools, and headed on over, determined to do justice to these cookies.

I was adamant about this cookie justice because these cookies…they deserve the best. They’re too good for sloppy decorating or careless presentations. These sugar cookies are what make up the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow, you see. The dough is soft and a joy to work with, turning my usual full-day roll-out cookie battle into a short, 2-hour rendez-vous with a handsome mound of dough. They freeze and thaw flawlessly. And when you eat them? Oh, when you eat them! They are everything that a delicious, fresh store-bought sugar cookie is, without all of the preservatives and frightening ingredients that accompany them (unless 2 sticks of butter is scary to you, which, for some, it could be) – they are pillowy soft, buttery but still sweet enough to be a sugar cookie, with just the faintest hint of almond from a strategic use of extract. They’re heavenly, and I can tell you that my search for The One is over. I took one bite of these and knew that I couldn’t even mess with them to make them healthier; my usual reaction to a delicious dessert is, “how can I keep this level of quality without so much fat, sugar, etc.?” but not with these. I don’t know how big of a calorie bomb these babies are, but whatever it is, they are 100% worth it. 200% worth it! I’m still on a blissful cookie high from what I ate last night. I feel like a school girl with a crush. Cut the cookies into smaller shapes, only make them when you have other people to pawn the extras off onto – do what you must, but do make them, and don’t even think of changing a thing. They will rock your world, guaranteed.

To keep tabs on my progress with decorating, I’m still struggling with the details and getting the right consistency. At first, the icing was too thick, both in outlining and flooding. The next day when I went in to add the detail, I over-thinned that batch and had some major cookie bleeding going on. I chose difficult designs, such as free-hand lightning bolts and the deathly hallows symbol (how in the world you make a pretty, even, free-form circle within a triangle with royal icing is beyond me!), so the results are more amateur than even I had anticipated, but I do think I’m improving. I certainly won’t be anywhere along the lines of the cookies on Annie’s Eats or Bake at 350 by the end of the year, but that’s ok. There’s always something to work towards, and now that I have a cookie recipe that I enjoy working with, I have a feeling that I’ll have even more motivation to practice.

 a belated birthday gesture for a friend who was also at the party

Sugar Cookies au passe: Buttery Sugar Cookies (A Runner-Up), Mardi-Gras Sugar Cookies, Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies, Happy Biscuits

 The Holy Grail of Sugar Cookies, courtesy of Bake at 350
Yield: Approximately 4 Dozen Cookies*

The Ingredients
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar**
2 sticks salted butter
1 egg
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
Royal Icing, for decorating

Preheat the oven to 350 and line several (ideally: not dark) cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. While those ingredients are mixing, combine the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and set aside. Once the butter and sugar is a pale yellow and fluffy (you may need to scrape down the bowl every so often), add the egg and extracts and mix to combine. Gradually, with the mixer set on low speed, mix in the flour until just combined. Take care to scrape down the bowl and bottom to make sure that the flour is all incorporated without over-mixing.

Scoop it out of the bowl, kneading it together briefly as you go, and set on a floured surface for rolling. Roll the cookie out to about ¼-inch thickness and cut into the desired shapes. Place ½-inch apart (they don’t spread much at all) on the prepared baking sheets and freeze for 5 minutes. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, removing before the edges develop any golden-brown coloring; the centers of the cookies may still be soft, but will firm up out of the oven. Allow the baked cookies to sit on the sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

*Yield will vary based on the size of the cookies; most of mine were relatively small, so a full batch of a more typical, round cookie cutter may yield closer to 3 dozen. The thickness will also impact the yield, of course, but try to keep the cookies relatively thick.
**The original recipe suggests using vanilla sugar, which I don’t have – but if you do, I think it would be a lovely addition.

For the main course, I made another two batches of no-knead whole wheat pizza dough, this time adding in 1T garlic powder, 2 ½ teaspoons onion powder, 2-3 teaspoons dried oregano, and 1 teaspoon dried thyme to try to make it more flavorful. It did turn out much better, though I think I’ll try my hand at a more traditional dough at some point, too. It’s not as crisp as I’d ideally like it to be – it tastes absolutely incredible and everyone loved it (one person even called it better than crack, so I’m really being nit-picky when I say I’m not satisfied with it); it’s just not the same as the kind of dough you get from a local parlor. It’s a good recipe to have in your arsenal, but maybe not The One, or at the very least not The Only One.


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