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Monday, December 20, 2010

World's Best Sugar Cookies

Several years ago I took a cookie decorating class at Central Market Cooking School in Austin.  It was one of my favorite cooking classes of the several I've taken!  It was hands-on and everyone walked away with about 1/2 dozen nicely decorated sugar cookies.

The instructor, Laurie Mather, is a pastry expert with a great ability to teach the uninitiated the complete basics of baking and decorating some darn fine sugar cookies.  She called her cookie recipe the World's Best Sugar Cookies and I have to say I agree.  I've tried many sugar cookie recipes and hers is just about fool proof (me being the fool!).

Here's the recipe:

Laurie Mather's World's Best Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter (use real butter - not margarine)
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp good Vanilla
2 Tbsp Cream
1 Egg
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Add egg, vanilla, and cream together.  Add in baking powder and 1 cup of the flour.  Mix until well combined.  Add in second cup of flour and mix until well combined.  Add last cup of flour and mix by hand. (I confess, I do the entire thing in the stand mixer)

Creamed butter and sugar - turns light yellow - fluffy texture

There is no need to chill the dough before rolling out.  However, chilling does make a sharper edge on the cookie during baking.

Bake at 350F for 8-10 minutes or until very lightly browned.

So, I made the dough - and because I wanted a sharp edge on the cookie, I let them chill in the fridge.
Sugar Cookie dough resting in refrigerator
I am not decorating these cookies today - I rolled, cut, baked, cooled, and will be storing them in an airtight container for transport to my family's home in Austin...where the grandchildren, their parents, their Aunts and Uncles, and me and Grandpa Cranky will enjoy a multi-generational cookie decorating activity Christmas Eve.  That shit stuff warms the cockles of my heart (what exactly are the cockles of my heart???)  They love to decorate cookies and I take frosting and lots of candies and sprinkles for them...and I'll make some royal icing for me to play with.

A tip on rolling the dough - I have the best success with a well-floured wooden dowel rolling pin...and I roll the dough in small portions.  Like pancakes - the first set usually sucks...I end up throwing it back...or baking it off and wishing I'd thrown it back.  Then, I get "the feel" of the dough...and it starts going without a hitch.  Tip #1 - don't roll too thin - you will have a heck of a time getting them off the rolling surface.  About 1/8" thick dough seems "just right" for me.  I flour my granite counter top and roll there.  Enough to cut out about 4 or 5 medium size cookies...then I get some more dough and go again.  I've done this for years and if I try to make it larger, I always mess up a few cookies.  Tip #2 - bake like-size cookies on a cookie sheet.  If you are baking large cookie cutter sizes - only put large cookies on that cookie sheet.  I tend to mix large and small cookies in the baking batch - but not on the baking sheet.  If I try to sneak a smaller one on - it always has over-crisped edges.  The cookies should have barely browned edges.

Here are some rolled and cut, but unbaked...

rolled and cut - similar sizes - needed to clean up the edge of the snow flakes!

And here are some just out of the oven - not much change in color you can see...and that is just right.

baked - with just a hint of brown on the edges
Laurie taught us to outline the cookie with royal or glace icing, and flood the inside of the outline after allowing to dry for a few minutes.  To outline, start at the 9 o'clock position and go counter clockwise around the cookie.  Hold the bag at a 45 degree angle.  Touch the surface of the cookie and squeeze.  Gently lift about 1 inch from the surface and let the icing fall.  Let the icing fall slightly ahead on the cookie.  As you get close the starting point, lower your hand to meet the beginning.  Toothpicks are one of the most valuable tools after your piping bag and tips.  She taught us to make our own parchment paper piping bags...but I figured out soon enough, I do better with disposable piping bags.  Flooding is simply a matter of cutting a small hole on a pastry bag and squeezing icing gently onto the cookie.  Start in the center and move to the edges.  Push the icing to the edge of the outline with a toothpick.  Don't touch the edges with the toothpick.  Work quickly to achieve an even surface (uh, my surfaces are not smooth - I need to work on that).   Decorating the cookies comes after you allow the flood icing to set up so that the colors don't run together (unless you want them to, of course).  If you want to put on sprinkles or other things that need to "stick" - those you do while it is damp.  I also found a pair of tweezers was invaluable for gently placing sprinkle shapes and sugar pearls.

I'd love to take her classes again...I just don't think I can drive 375 miles to do that :-)  I see that she is having a Valentine Cookie Decorating class in February 2011...and there are currently seats available in her class...but they don't last long!  MAN, I'd like to be there and take that class...she'll be teaching pretty borders and flowers this time.  Unfortunately, it's not to be for me!  I'm glad I was able to take with me the things she are a couple of the cookies I made last year. 

A huge problem at the coast is our high humidity...royal icing does not dry fast (if at all) in high humidity...that was a problem!  They were still quite pretty IMHO.  I am still a real novice...mostly because I don't do them often enough.  As with all things, one improves with practice.  I tend to do this maybe 3 times each MOST!  I'll never be an expert that way - but that's granddaughters always oooh and ahhh and it makes me feel like the Cookie Queen when they do :-)

Here are the recipes for a couple of decorating icings for the cookies (also provided by Laurie in the class):

Glace' Icing

1 lb 10x sugar (confectioners sugar)
3/8 cup milk
3/8 cup light corn syrup

Options:  Flavored oil, lemon, almond, orange, etc.  Only use alcohol based extracts.

Mix sugar and milk until it is very creamy.  Then add the corn syrup until just combined.  This makes a very shiny icing, but takes a little while to dry.  You can substitute water for the milk, and it will last even longer.  Keeps 2 weeks in the refrigerator when made with milk, and 3 when made with water.  To store, cover icing directly with plastic wrap, then cover bowl tightly.  Stir the icing to soften before using.  You may microwave briefly if needed.

Glace' Outline Icing  (always outline first!)

1/2 cup glace' icing
6-8 Tbsp powdered sugar

Mix until very stiff.  Store the same as above.  Keeps 2 weeks in the refrigerator

Royal Icing

1/4 cup meringue powder (you can buy this in Wal-mart in the back party section with Wilton products)
1/2 cup cold water
1 lb Powdered sugar

Optional:  Flavoring, vanilla, lemon, almond, etc.

Add meringue powder to cold water and beat for 2-3 minutes to soft peaks.  Add sugar 1 cup at a time beating between each addition.  Add flavoring if using at this point.  Beat an additional 3-5 minutes to stiff peaks.  Cover with plastic and store in the refrigerator for several weeks.

This icing can be thinned down to glaze the cookies.  It dries very quickly, but isn't as shiny as the glace'.  It doesn't taste quite as wonderful either, but it works great.

Royal Flood Icing

1 cup Royal Icing
1/8 - 1/4 cup water or pasteurized egg whites (this makes the icing shinier)

Mix thoroughly.  To check consistency, run a knife through it.  it should come together at 10 seconds.  Any less than 7 seconds, add more liquid.  Use in 3-5 days.  Store in glass container with plastic directly on the icing, then covered tightly.  Store in refrigerator up to one week.

Have Christmassy fun - and Bon Appetit Y'all!!!


  1. I forgot to say... this recipe makes 36 of the smaller cookies you saw on the baking sheets 12 of the larger ones you see decorated above!

  2. Thank you so much for posting this. I also took Laurie's class several years ago and was just about to type my recipes into the computer. Did you make a state of texas with bluebonnets in class?

    1. No, it was a Christmas cookie class!


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