Two days and counting until one of the top five class parties of the school year! As middle and high schoolers walk around with helium balloons, flowers, candy and stuffed animals, their elementary school compatriots will be storming the playgrounds with red and pink food coloring staining their lips and fingers, racing after each other and nothing in order to work off the rush they don’t even realize they have. I am not sorry to be missing this classroom extravaganza celebrating sugar and more sugar (with maybe a few mandarin oranges thrown in for good measure). Valentine’s Day at elementary schools is also one of the top five unofficial Pintrest-Parent-How-Can-I-Outdo-All-the-Other-Parents events of the academic year as well. There will be googly eyes. God bless our teachers and custodians. For them, February 14 is a day where they must show their mettle. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not an anti-love ogress. I’m simply wary of heavy commercialization and manipulation of our emotions (see Exhibit A, Simpsons Love Day). But if you love Love Day, I mean Valentine’s Day, I don’t judge you (I know I make that hard to believe, but I mean it). Have fun. And better yet, have cookies!
These are my relatively new go to for roll-and-cut sugar cookies. The recipe came to me in the last Cook’s Illustrated of 2017. After experimenting with method, we readers/eaters/bakers are left with an easy to roll and easy to cut dough that, after baking, delivers a crisp crumb and buttery flavor. Part of the magic is starting with cold, not room temperature, butter. Next change from the usual: you roll your dough out before putting it in the fridge to chill. Once you pull it out, the cookie cutting is easy.
Once the cookies are baked, you can eat them as is (this is actually how I prefer them) or have fun with royal icing or royal icing and sprinkles. Alternately, you can decorate with sugar crystals (a.k.a. sugar sprinkles, sanding sugar) before baking.
Crisp Sugar Cookies
From Better Holiday Sugar Cookies in the November/December 2017 Cook’s Illustrated
Makes 3 dozen cookies, possibly more, depending on size of cookie cutter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, chilled
2 2/3 cups (10 2/3 ounces) confectioner’s sugar
2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the cookies: Whisk egg, vanilla, salt and almond extract together in a small bowl. Whisk flour, baking powder and baking soda together in a medium bowl.
Process sugar in a food processor until fine – about 30 seconds. Add butter and process until there are no more big chunks of butter, also about 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl as needed.
Add the egg mixture and process until the mixture is smooth. Add the flour mixture until the flour is combined and the whole mix is crumbly. Scrape the bowl as needed.
Empty the dough out onto a counter and gently knead until combined and smooth, about 10 seconds. Divide the dough in half and place one of the pieces onto a piece of parchment paper. Use the heel of your palm or your fingers to press the dough into a 7″x9″ oval. Place another piece of parchment paper over your oval and roll it into a 10″x14″ oval, 1/8″ thick.
Place the dough, without removing it from the parchment pieces, onto your baking sheet. Repeat the whole process of pressing and rolling with the other half of the dough. Stack the second half of the dough on top of the first. Refrigerate at least 1.5 hours until the dough is firm. In a hurry? Place the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Adjust an oven rack to the middle lower position and preheat the oven to 300°. Line a rimless cookie sheet with parchment paper. If you, like me, don’t own a rimless cookie sheet, flip over your baking sheet and use the back. According to the article accompanying the recipe, this will lead to a more even bake as a result of better air circulation.
Carefully peel one piece of parchment paper off of the rolled dough and then replace it. This will make it easier to remove your cut cookies without sticking. Flip the dough over and remove the parchment paper. You will not need it again, so toss that in your compost bin. Use your cookie cutter(s) and transfer cut cookies to baking sheet. Leave 1/2″ between cookies. Bake for 14-17 minutes, rotating halfway through, until lightly browned at the edges.
Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire cooling rack.
Repeat with your second piece of chilled dough. Any remaining dough, from scraps or the unbaked second roll out, can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 5 days.
For the royal icing: Using your stand mixer (or electric hand mixer) fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk all ingredients together, first on medium-low until all the ingredients are combined. Once combined, increase speed to medium high and whisk until glossy with soft peaks, about 4 minutes.
Spread or pour the icing onto cookies or pipe designs. Allow the icing to dry completely before serving, about 1.5 hours. I ate them right away. If you want to stack and store these cookies, that’s where the wait matters. Enjoy!
P.S. Proof I am not an anti-love ogress: