Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

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Can you believe that Christmas is only a week away?  Because I can’t.  I still have plenty of things to do before the holidays and I feel like my list is going out of date every day.  I had ambitious plans for this past weekend to finish shopping for presents, making and writing greeting cards, and sending baked treats to friends and family, and yet, got none of those done.  I did end up showing my friend visiting from out of town around, celebrating Deb’s birthday, and Jen’s birthday as well!  All happy things.

Before my schedule became jam-packed as of late, I learned about a cookie donation program through Drop In & Decorate, and thankfully, was able to bake, decorate, and deliver the cookies to the Ronald McDonald House last week.  This is a really fun project to spread the spirits of giving and goodwill, and these cookies will make someone’s day a little brighter!  Isn’t that what Christmas is supposed to be all about?

The Drop In & Decorate website provides helpful information on hosting your own cookie decorating event and a list of local charitable organizations that accept donations.  Enlist a couple of good friends, put on some music, open a bottle of wine, and decorate away.  And be sure to leave out a tray of cookies to thank them for their help!

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This recipe below is good for cutouts, and I used it to make the Christmas trees, snowflakes, and snowmen you see here.  I decorated the cookies with royal icing, which hardens a bit as you let it air dry.  But you’ll need to leave the decorated cookies on a flat surface overnight for the icing to become completely set.  The icing part was my favorite and I could spend hours and hours doing it.  Who doesn’t like to play with food coloring and sugar icing?

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Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
(Makes about 36 cookies)

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, stir together flour, salt, and baking soda.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Gradually blend in the dry ingredients.  Divide the dough in half and cover each tightly with plastic wrap.  Chill dough for at least one hour.

Remove one piece of dough from refrigerator, and on a floured surface, roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness.  Cut into shapes with lightly floured cookie cutters and transfer to baking sheet.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies turn golden.  Let stand on cookie sheet two minutes before removing to cool on wire racks.

Frost with royal icing, if desired.

*Try to cut the cookies as closely as possible to minimize scraps.  If you need to re-roll, just gather the scraps and knead as little as possible to bring the dough together.  Chill the dough again before rolling it out and cutting it.  Re-roll no more than once because the cookies tend to get tough.

*If your kitchen is too warm, get out of the kitchen…just kidding!  You should divide the dough into quarters (instead of halves as per the instructions above) and work on a smaller piece of dough at one time while keeping the rest in the fridge until you are ready to use them.

*If the details on the cookie cutter are too intricate, you should roll out the dough directly on the cookie sheet, cut, and pull away the excess.  That way, you won’t risk breaking or distorting the cookies during transfer.

*Avoid using too much flour on your work surface and rolling pin.  The additional flour definitely makes the dough easier to handle, but it eventually becomes dry and the trade-off is cracks or lines on the surface of the cookies.

*Decorated cookies are also great as Christmas tree ornaments!  Just cut small holes with drinking straw before baking and then insert ribbon to hang the cookies.

*Candy pearls and dragees would make the cookies extra pretty, but since I made them for children, I didn’t use any because of potential choking hazards.

*Let the royal icing dry completely before storing the cookies.  Frosted cookies will keep several days in an airtight container between layers of parchment paper or wax paper.

Royal Icing (With Egg Whites)
(enough to frost 36 cookies)

2 large egg whites
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tbsp corn syrup
Food coloring, optional

In a large bowl, with handheld or stand mixer, beat the egg whites with the lemon juice.  Add the sugar and corn syrup and beat on low speed until smooth.  Add food coloring, if desired.  The icing needs to be used immediately or covered with plastic wrap (touching the surface of the icing) as it hardens when exposed to air.

To decorate the cookies, transfer the icing to piping bags, outline the cookies, let dry slightly, and flood the interior with more icing (you can use a toothpick to help the icing fill the gaps).

*If necessary, add more sugar or water to reach the desired consistency.  The icing should be thin enough to pipe with, and thick enough so that it won’t run over (similar to Elmer’s glue).

*For black icing, it is best to use a black gel or powdered food coloring.  One time, I made the mistake of making black food coloring by mixing the primary colors, and the resulting icing tasted really bitter from the massive amount of food coloring I used.

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One Comment on “Cut-Out Sugar Cookies”

  1. L. says:

    Nice! Looking forward to seeing you bake more for charities!


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