Introduction: Simple Cut Out Sugar Cookies

It's never too early to start working on your holiday baking! It will be here quicker than you think, my friends.

Today, I am going to share with you a quick and easy recipe and method for making cut out sugar cookies. Not only do these cookies taste fantastic, but the variations are endless, and they store really well!

I know what you're thinking: "Cut out cookies are too hard!" Well, I'm not going to lie; they are more work than a simple drop cookie, or even my favorite chocolate chip cookies (ooh...there's an idea for an instructable!), but when you're done with these you will feel such a sense of accomplishment you will literally (and I mean the word literally) be jumping up and down with pride!

Enough jumping...let's get to it!

Step 1: Gather Your Ingredients and Equipment

For this recipe you will need:

1 cup (227 g) of room temperature butter

1 cup (200 g) of granulated sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, or almond, or any other flavoring of your choice

3 cups (375 g) of all-purpose flour, sifted NOTE: this means you measure first, then sift

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

The equipment you will need:

Stand mixer with paddle attachment (or hand mixer and wooden spoon)

Stand mixer bowl (or other bowl if using hand mixer)

Spatula

Large Silpat or other non-stick baking mat

Parchment paper

Rolling pin

Rolling pin guides (more on this later!)

Cookie sheet

Cookie cutters of your choice

Step 2: Prepare Your Ingredients

First, make sure your butter is at room temperature. This typically means that your butter has been sitting out on your counter for about an hour. If you look at the first picture you will see that the butter will 'give' when you press your finger in it, but it still holds it's shape. That's the perfect consistency, but again, it takes about an hour.

I know, I know...that seems like a really long time to wait, but trust me on this. If your butter is too cold it will not incorporate well and you'll have butter 'flakes' throughout your cookies. NO GOOD! Conversely, if your butter is too soft, they will spread and likely turn out greasy. ICK!

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Wait the hour....
  • Cut the butter up in slices and lay them out so they can warm up faster (I've had this work in as little as 15 minutes depending on how thin I cut the slices and how warm it is)
  • Grate the butter with a cheese grater. Okay, now let's get real here. By the time I find my grater, grate up the butter and clean the grater (who here likes to clean their grater?? Come on, raise your hands!!), the hour is up and you could have just waited the hour while having a nice cuppa Joe and reading your favorite Kay's Cupcakes Instructables. Am I right??

At this point, some of you are saying, "But there's another option! The microwave!" Well, you're certainly right. You could use the microwave, but remember that little thing about the butter being too soft? Unless you're an expert at your microwave, I wouldn't risk it.

Now that we've covered Butter 101, let's move on to the dry ingredients. In baking, measuring your ingredients accurately is critical. Whenever possible, I would highly recommend using a scale, but I know not everyone has one. SO, let's talk about the best way to measure flour, in my humble opinion, without a scale (see video!).

  • While holding your measuring cup over the flour, lightly spoon the flour into the cup until it is overflowing.
  • Take a straight edge of some sort (knife, etc.) and scrape off the extra

If you look at the video I provided, you will see that it looks like the flour is just lightly resting in the cup. PERFECT! Many people make the mistake of scooping up the flour with the measuring cup, which actually packs the flour down in the cup. If you were to measure that amount, and compare it with the measurement using my method, you would see there is actually a lot more flour in the 'scoop' method. This would make for a dense, dry cookie. Boo!

I know it won't seem like enough flour, but it is....I promise!

After you've measured out the 3 cups of flour, sift it into a separate bowl, along with the baking powder and salt.

TIP: Pay careful attention to the way a recipe is worded. The clues for whether to sift before or after measuring are written into the recipe. For example:

1 cup of flour, sifted: measure the flour, then sift it

vs.

1 cup of sifted flour: sift the flour, then measure it

Step 3: Cream the Butter and Sugar

Add the butter and sugar to the bowl of your stand mixer (or a separate bowl if using a hand mixer). Cream the butter and sugar together by using the paddle attachment and mixing for about 3 minutes.

I'm careful not to over mix here. I know many people cream their butter/sugar on high, but I use speed 2 on my KitchenAid for about 3 minutes and it's perfect for me.

Make sure to scrape down the paddle and the sides/bottom on the bowl before moving on.

Step 4: Add Eggs and Flavoring

Once the butter and sugar are creamed, and the bowl and paddle are scraped down, add the egg and the flavoring of your choice. In this batch I used all vanilla. Mix well until fully incorporated; you should see no streaks of the vanilla or the egg (see pic 2). Be sure to scrape the bowl and paddle again.

Some variations:

Lemon: use lemon extract and add some fresh grated lemon zest (Yum!!)

Orange: use orange extract and add some fresh grated orange zest

Almond: use almond extract instead of (or addition to) the vanilla. If using more than one flavor, make sure it does not go over the 1 1/2 teaspoons of liquid or you may need to add a bit more flour to compensate.

I've even used some of the Lorann Oils instead of the vanilla (strawberry, raspberry, etc.). The possibilities are endless! Have fun experimenting with your own ideas!

Step 5: Add the Dry Ingredients

With your mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients gradually. I usually add one spoonful at a time (see pic 1) and continue to add just until everything comes together. Do not over mix this or your cookies will be dense. The dough should look like pics 2 and 3 and should be rather stiff.

Step 6: Prepare the Dough for Rolling

At this point, most recipes would say to wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours. We don't have time for that, do we? After all, we already spent an hour waiting for the butter to warm up, right? Don't get me wrong, we are going to chill this baby, but we are going to do things efficiently.

That means we are going to ROLL it out BEFORE we chill it. Now isn't that a great idea? How many of you have broken your arms trying to roll out cold dough? Raise your hands!! I know I have.......

Let's work smarter, not harder!

So here we go:

This is where you'll need your Silpat and your parchment paper. Basically you'll want to roll out the dough in between two pieces of parchment paper but if you try to do that right on the counter, the paper will slide all over the place. If you put the Silpat down, then put the parchment on top, it will keep it from doing that. Alternatively, if you do not have a non-stick baking mat, you can put down a few pieces of damp paper towel under the parchment paper instead.

So, we have our Silpat (or damp paper towels) and the parchment paper down. Now dump all that beautiful dough on the parchment paper. Make sure to get all the goodies out of the bowl! See how clean my bowl is?? Pat the dough into a nice flat disc, then cut it in two pieces, so we can work with one piece at a time. Put the other piece back in the bowl for safe keeping.

Now we're ready to roll....

Step 7: Let's Roll!

When baking cut out cookies it's really important to make sure all your cookies are the same thickness. There are a few ways you can do this. You can use a rolling pin with thickness guides on it. I have one of these but I find them cumbersome to use, and putting on the bands greatly reduces my rolling space. You can buy one of those expensive rolling kits. OR, better yet, you can make your own, which is precisely what I did.

I went to my local hardware store and got 12 paint sticks. When you measure them, you'll see that one paint stick is 1/8", two paint sticks together is 1/4", and three paint sticks together are, you guessed it, 1/2". These make great guides for rolling out dough! While I was there, I got some duct tape. Not any old ordinary duct tape. I got OWL duct tape, and covered the sticks in the stacks mentioned above; that way, I had three choices for thickness.

For standard cut out cookies I would recommend the 1/4" owls (two paint sticks together), so get your medium sized owls and put one on either side of your dough, but not wider than your rolling pin. Presto! Now you're set up to roll at an even thickness :)

Roll your dough until it is all flush with the owls. Repeat with the other piece of dough, and stack the two on a cookie sheet that fits in your fridge.

Put these babies in the fridge and let them sit until thoroughly chilled. I would recommend a minimum of an hour or so, but think of all the time you saved by pre-rolling the dough without the loss of limbs! (Go have another cuppa Joe and read some more instructables!)

Step 8: Time to Cut!

Now it's time to cut out your cookies. If you plan to bake your cookies right away, now is a good time to pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Before you take out any dough, prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with a piece of parchment paper (or Silpat if you prefer). Use any cookie cutter of your choice. Take out one dough sheet at a time and cut out your cookies. Try to use your dough as efficiently as possible, getting as many cookies cut out of one sheet. This will limit the number of times you need to re-roll. Take all the scraps and form another ball. Re-roll them and cut out more cookies. Continue to do this until you have used all the dough. If your dough becomes too soft to cut, put it back in the fridge for a bit.

Depending on the cutter being used, I can usually cut all my cookies out at once, with two re-rolls.

Once you have all the cut cookies on a cookie sheet, put them back in the fridge for at least 10 minutes, or longer if possible. The idea is to keep the cookies from spreading as much as possible. The colder they are when you put them in the oven, the less they will spread.

Step 9: Bake It Baby!

Let's get those glorious cookies in the oven! Bake them in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 8 - 10 minutes. Each oven is different so you'll want to watch them closely. Many recipes will say to bake them until they are golden brown on the edges, but I disagree. If you do, your cookies will be very crisp. If you like crispy cookies, go for it! I have found, however, that most people like a softer, chewy cookie, so I bake mine just until they start looking a little crackly on top (is that a word??). See the tops of the cookies in pic 1. Notice also, that they are not brown on the edges at all. If you look at the bottom of the cookies in pic 2 you'll see a bit of brown, but that's it. For my oven, this takes 10 minutes. Your oven may be different so start checking at 8 minutes.

Once they are done to your satisfaction, take them out of the oven and put the cookie sheets on a rack for 2 minutes. Remove them from the pan and put them on a wire rack until they are fully cooled.

If you are going to decorate and/or eat them right away, just store them in an airtight container. If you plan to use them at a later date, you may freeze them for up to 2 months. To do so, line an airtight container with plastic wrap. Put a layer of cookies, a layer of parchment, then repeat this process for all the cookies you want to freeze. Wrap the remaining plastic wrap on top the cookies, put on the lid, and put them in the freezer.

When you want to use them, take them out of the freezer and put them on the counter. Then LEAVE THEM ALONE until they are fully thawed. Do not unwrap, do not take the lid off, do not try to take them out. Just leave them alone until fully thawed. Trust me.

Step 10: Decorate! (Or Eat??)

Congratulations! Now you are a Cut Out Cookie Master! At this point you can decorate your cookies any way you wish.

If you're new to cookie decorating, just start out simple with a basic flood of royal icing, and maybe add some colorful sprinkles or sugars. Here is a basic video on how to Flood your cookies. You don't even have to have fancy pastry bags or tips, just use a Ziploc storage bag!

Check out my Royal Icing Tutorial for more information.

Have fun!!

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