Monday, December 12, 2016

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies


It’s undeniable that cut-out sugar cookies are extremely popular during the holiday season. There are so many adorable cookie cutters and Christmas shapes – if there was a cookie of the month for December, this would be it!

Unfortunately, they’re not necessarily the easiest cookie to make. The recipe itself is simple enough to make, and it uses ingredients that you most certainly already have in your pantry. But rolling them out can be a royal pain, and it’s very frustrating when the beautiful tree you were excite to bake just looks like a lumpy circle.

So today, I wanted to share my tips to ensure your cookies turn out picture perfect every time.

Room temperature ingredients
It’s important that all of your ingredients start out at room temperature – the eggs, the butter, the sugar, the flour… everything! This is important because ingredients can react with each other if they’re different temperatures. For example, cold eggs will curdle when combined with dairy.

I always set my refrigerated ingredients out on the counter for an hour before I start baking.

This is ESPECIALLY important with butter. Butter is the foundation for many baked goods. You know your butter is the right temperature if when you touch it, your finger leaves an imprint. It shouldn’t be too soft though that it doesn’t pull away from the wrapper.



Measure ingredients by weight
Unlike cooking, baking is an exact science, and it’s important all of the ingredients are measured properly.

The best way to do this is to measure your ingredients by weight. One of my favorite baking tools ever is the EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale. I use it to measure everything.

I try to add weight (in grams) to each ingredient listed in my recipes, but when I encounter a recipe where the weight isn’t listed, I used this ingredient weight chart to check.

Do not overmix the dough!
In order to get cut-out sugar cookies to hold their shape, it’s necessary to use a recipe with a higher concentration of flour. Because of this, there is obviously more gluten in recipe.

When you overwork gluten, cookies become tough. So once the dry ingredients are incorporated into the wet ingredients, put those beaters down and stop mixing! This rule applies to all cookies. Cookies are more tender with less mixing.

Roll your dough out before refrigeration
It may seem backwards to roll out your dough before refrigeration, but it actually makes the most sense!

It’s significantly easier to roll out the dough right after you mix it because it’s soft and pliable.  It’s kind of like trying to flatten a rock if you wait until after refrigeration.

Also, a lot of recipes call for you to refrigerate the dough for several hours before baking, but if you roll out the dough first you don’t have to do that because it takes a fraction of a time to chill a sheet of cookie dough than it does to chill a block of dough.

Roll dough between two sheets parchment paper
In my opinion, the worst thing you can do to sugar cookies is to over flour them.  This happens when people put flour the baking surface before rolling out the cookie dough. They do this, of course, so it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin.

But you can avoid using extra flour by rolling out your dough between two sheets of wax or parchment paper.

Refrigerate dough
I guess this goes without saying if you’ve already read the previous steps, but you must refrigerate your dough after rolling it flat. If the dough is warm, the cookies will spread and will look like blobs. No one wants that.

A lot of recipes will recommend that you chill the dough for several hours, but I don’t think that’s necessary. In my opinion, 30 minutes to 1 hour is plenty of time. The dough should be cold enough that when you use a cookie cutter, the shape will lift off of the rest of the dough.

Your cookie dough should feel cold when you put it in the oven. This will prevent spread. In between batches, stick the dough back in the refrigerator.

Use one cookie cutter at a time
Get the most bang for your buck by using one cookie cutter at a time.

For example, the first batch of cookies I make, I will only use the tree shape. You’ll be able to cut more cookies out of the dough and have less scraps. It’s important to not put the cookie cutter too close to the edge because the edges are thinner and that will bake faster than the rest of the cookie.

Also, when you use the same cookie cutter, all of the cookies are the same size and bake evenly.

Do not overbake
Cut-out sugar cookies cook quickly because of all of their different edges. Start checking on them about 4 minutes prior to what the cooking time suggests. Once the edge of the cookie starts to look golden, remove them from the oven immediately.

Buttercream frosting
This is personal preference, but I think buttercream frosting has a lot more flavor than the royal icing that is generally used when frosting sugar cookies.

If you plan to use sprinkles, do this immediately after frosting, otherwise it will harder (or “crust”) and not stick.

I always use a piping bag and piping tip to decorate my cookies. They’re inexpensive and very easy to use. I just make small little dots all over the cookie to achieve the textured look.



Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
Ingredients
For the cookies
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks Challenge butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
For the frosting
  • 1 stick Challenge butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons heavy cream 
Directions
For the cookies
  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter for one minute; ad the sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy.
  3. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed and add egg, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Beat until combined.
  4. Add dry mixture to bowl and beat on low until just combined.
  5. Lay a piece of parchment paper on your counter top, place dough on paper, and then put another piece of parchment paper on top of dough.
  6. Use a rolling pin to gently roll out the dough between the two sheets of parchment paper.
  7. Once dough is about 1/3-inch thickness stick it in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.
  8. After cookie dough is chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  9. Use cookie cutter to cut out shapes and transfer to baking sheet.
  10. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges of cookies just barely turn golden.
  11. Repeat with remaining dough; cool completely before frosting.
For the frosting
  1. Beat butter on medium speed for about 2 minutes until smooth and creamy.
  2. Add powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and heavy whipping cream to bowl; increase mixer to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes.
  3. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin or more heavy whipping cream if frosting is too thick.
  4. Frost cooled sugar cookies.




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