2017-12-09 / Food

Classic Holiday Sugar Cookies

By ALAN BENNETT
Food Columnist

It was a busy November, to say the very least. In between my career commitments, there was Thanksgiving; my mother suffered a (relatively minor) medical episode, requiring my travel to Connecticut twice; and I celebrated my 24th birthday.

But it’s a new month, and I’m back to writing. Luckily, it’s my favorite time of year for cooking, and writing, for that matter.

It’s the holiday season, the time in which every person will be in their kitchen preparing some variation on the classic Christmas cookie. Some prefer gingerbread, with its spicy taste and snappy texture; others, peanut blossoms, topped with chocolate kisses. Those dedicated to the craft might attempt Linzer cookies, made with almond meal and with jam sandwiched in between.

For me, there’s nothing more classic than the sugar cookie, prepared simply but frosted thickly.

This recipe is adapted from the New York Times’ Alison Roman, whose cooking guide “How to Make Sugar Cookies” has served as a Christmas cookie Bible for me the past couple years. To add my own twist, however, I’ve bumped up the vanilla extract to two teaspoons, and swapped the all-purpose flour for white whole-wheat flour, which adds a characteristic nuttiness and chew to the finished product.

Of course, if you don’t like the flavor of whole-wheat flour, or think you’ll miss the snap of the traditional sugar cookie, feel free to use a combination of whole-wheat and all-purpose flours, or leave out the whole-wheat entirely.

For decoration, should you choose to adorn your cookies post-bake, the sky’s the limit. I’ve adapted a royal icing recipe (a combination of egg whites and powdered sugar, whipped until stiff) for mine — although, with a mixer misplaced at the worst possible time, the result was more of a “royal glaze.”

Sugar Cookies for Christmas

Time: 2 ½ hours, plus cooling
Yield: 36-40 cookies
3 ½ cups white whole-wheat flour,
or a combination of whole-wheat and all-purpose flours
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Frosting, glaze or royal icing

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer (or a toned arm), beat together butter and sugar on medium-high until the mixture is light, fluffy and pale, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down sides of the bowl, and add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, and beat until everything is well combined, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed.

Add dry ingredients all at once, and mix on low speed just until incorporated.

Scrape dough out of bowl and divide it in half. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap, patting into a 1-inch-thick disk. Chill at least 2 hours and up to 5 days.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Roll out dough, one disk at a time, on lightly floured parchment paper or work surface until it's about 1/8 inch thick. Create shapes, using a lightly floured cookie cutter (or a glass, if you don’t have cookie cutters). If at any point the dough becomes too soft, slide it onto a cookie sheet and chill for a few minutes in the freezer or refrigerator. Gather any dough scraps and combine them into a disk.

Roll and repeat the cookie-cutting process, chilling as necessary.

Place shapes onto parchment-lined baking sheets 1 inch apart and bake until cookie edges are lightly browned with sandy, pale centers, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. Cool the cookies on a rack, if you have one. Otherwise, let them cool on the pan.

Decorate with a glaze, royal icing, frosting or whatever you'd like. Don’t forget the sprinkles.

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