To decorate cookies I mainly use Sugar Cookies and without a doubt this is the most frequent question I receive via email, in comments on Facebook, Instagram or You Tube. Over the years I’ve used the same recipe but I tweaked it and learned what works and what doesn’t. Below you’ll find a recipe I use regularly. I always use Vanilla Extract as my base flavor and then I add almond or lemon or other flavors but Vanilla is always there. I actually really like using 3 flavor combo – vanilla, almond and lemon. All together.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour 450 grams
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 sticks room temperature unsalted butter 1cup, 226grams
- 1 cup gramsgranulated sugar 200grams
- 1 large egg room temperature
- 1 tbl vanilla extract vanilla bean paste or almond extract
- 1 tsp baking powder optional - check the notes
Sift together flour, 1 tsp baking powder, add salt, set aside.
In a small dish whisk together egg and vanilla extract, set aside.
In a mixing bowl cream together room temperature butter and sugar, about 5 minutes, scrape the bowl twice. Butter creamed with sugar should be light creamy.
Gradually add vanilla egg mixture, beating anywhere from 30 seconds to minute until well mixed in.
Now gradually in 3 additions add flour. Lower the speed of your mixer to low. Scrape the bowl well after the last addition and beat just until flour is combined.
Scrape the cookie dough into a large bowl, and using your hands knead the cookie dough for about 20-30 seconds, until dough comes together.
Wrap the dough in a plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or 4hours(minimum) or speed up the process by cutting it in half and wrapping well and freezing for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375F - 380F
If you find that dough is hard as a rock, don’t panic. Quarter the dough. Take one piece and microwave on high for 5-8 seconds to soften it up a little, it should be super soft, just soft enough so you can roll it out, you’ll still need to apply little bit of pressure. Cut up remaining dough into smaller pieces, set aside. Place microwaved piece between your rolling guides, either between 2 pieces of parchment or if you have large silicone mat you can use it also ( for the guides you can use 2 painter's sticks glued together on each side, or 2 pieces of 1/4inch wood rods will work great)
Cut out as many cookies as you can. Gather scraps and to the scraps add a fresh piece of cut up down you set aside. Re-roll and repeat until you are done with all the cookies. Place the cookies on a light colored baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill the cut outs in the fridge for about 10 minutes, or in the freezer for 5.
Bake for 10-11 minutes, depending on the oven, turn the sheet once half way through the baking.
Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5-7 minutes, transfer to cooling rack.
Store in the airtight container for up to 2 weeks or freeze undecorated cookies between pieces of wax paper in a large freeze safe container, for up to 3 months.
Decorate cookies as desired with royal icing or other medium that you use.
If you are experiencing inconsistent results, omit baking powder or use less of it and you can up the temperature to 380F.
If your cookies become soft after you decorate them, this is usually because of increased humidity. I'd suggest you bake the cookie for a bit longer, so they are crispier to start with.
Check if the cookies are baked, if you see a spot that appears wet, usually in the center of the cookies, continue baking for additional minute or 2.
Lemon Cookies – use 1 tbl fresh lemon zest and 1tsp vanilla and 1tsp lemon extract
Chocolate Chip Cut Out Cookies – ¼ cup granulated sugar, ¾ cup brown sugar, micro chocolate chips (add these with flour), 1/4tsp baking powder
Almond Sugar Cookies - I add 1 tsp vanilla and 1 tsp almond extract. I find almond flavor to be very strong and 1tsp does the trick for me but if you'd like to add even more extract you definitely can. Almond cookies pair really nicely especially with my Fresh lemon royal icing.
You can also add spices to this recipe, try cinnamon, cardamom or pumpkin spice to make them more seasonal.
- How to roll the dough and cut out cookies?
If you find that dough is hard as a rock, don’t panic. Quarter the dough. Take one piece and microwave it on high for 5-8 seconds to soften it up a little. It shouldn’t be soft, just soft enough so you can roll it out. You’ll still need to apply little bit of pressure when rolling it out. Cut up remaining dough into smaller pieces, set aside.
For even thickness use rolling guides. Place the cookie dough between them parchment paper or use DoughEz Rolling System (I highly recommend it, I’ve used it for year and it is a fantastic tool).
I use 1/4 inch wood rods or 2 painter’s sticks glued together, also about 1/4inch (2.54cm) thick.
Once you roll out the cookie dough between parchment sheets,or Dough EZ silicone mat run a spatula underneath the rolled dough. Cut out as many cookies as you can.
Gather scraps add one piece of fresh dough you set aside, re-roll and repeat.
- How to prevent cookies from browning too much on the bottom?
Use light-colored baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone mat. I use USA pan brand.
If your oven bakes unevenly, you might want to rotate the baking sheet half way through.
I bake my cookies at 380F(193C) for 10-11 minutes, thinner cookies I bake for 9-11 minutes, depends on the size of the cookies.
- How to prevent cookies from spreading?
- Storage and Freezing
- How to Store Decorated Cookies?
- What Boxes to use to package/display cookies?
I personally use boxes from www.brpboxshop.com , they sell their boxes in bulk, 100 pieces and I love them. I really like their brown boxes 10″x7″x1″ boxes, lid and bottom is sold separately. If you are not certain which goes with what, be sure to call, folks at brpboxshop are very friendly, always willing to help out.
If you are looking for smaller amounts, you can try Nashville Wraps, they sell these cookie boxes in the set of 50 pieces.
If you are a seasonal cookie maker you can use cookie tins that are available at discounted prices during holidays or visit your local bakery perhaps they’d be willing to sell you couple of their boxes for a small fee.
Craft stores carry small bakery boxes as well. You can also use Take-out Containers and Jars for smaller cookies.
- Creative cookie designs without icing
If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to decorate cookies you can still make them stand out from the crowd by using simple tools like:
Food grade silicone mats to imprint decorative designs in the cookie dough. I used this Silicone SugarVeil Mat to make the imprint on the leaf cookies below.
Letter Impression set – you can use these to create personalized or seasonal messages.
- How to add Sprinkles to unbaked cookies
I like to mist the cookies with little bit of water using a small spray bottle and then sprinkle them with decorating sprinkles and bake as usual.