Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Copper and Blue Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Best Ever Rolled Sugar Cookies

We're in the middle of our holiday baking frenzy these days. I didn't have any cooking done, but I felt like I had plenty of time. Then... I looked at the calendar. Oops. We've spend the morning baking these wonderful Vanilla-Almond Sugar Cookies, and they continue to be the best rolled sugar cookie I've ever tried. This post is an oldie but a goodie--but it's worth posting again because once you try this recipe you'll be hooked. Leave your thank yous in the comments section! :)

These cookies are awesome. First, they are delicious--so good, in fact, that we sometimes scarf them down with no frosting at all. They also have a perfect, tender texture without being so tender that they break too easily. But that's not the most awesome thing about them. No, the most awesome thing about them is how easy this dough is to work with. It's not sticky, and you can roll it out immediately after mixing it, at room temperature. No joke.

First, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy. I use unsalted butter, because it's easier to control the salt levels--different manufacturers put different amounts of salt in their salted butter. Salted butter also has more water in it than unsalted butter and your dough might end up a little sticky. If you only have salted butter, go ahead and use it, but omit the salt from the recipe. After you've creamed the butter and sugar, add an egg, beating until incorporated. Add some vanilla extract, and some almond extract. At this point, your batter will look like this:

Mix together your flour, salt, and baking powder.

Mix the dry ingredients in with the butter mixture in two batches. You could dump it in all at once, but you'd be covered with a cloud of flour as soon as you turned the mixer on.

Beat it in until it's all incorporated.

The dough will be sort of crumbly at this point. Dump it all out on the counter and squish it into a nice round pile.

This amount of dough is a double batch. I make a LOT of cookies around the holidays! But since I wasn't planning to bake all the dough today, I cut it into quarters.

Then I formed two of the quarters into discs, wrapped them in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge for another day. You can wait up to a week to form and bake this dough, but be sure to let the dough come to room temperature before you try to roll it out.

By the way, the tool I used to cut the dough into quarters is called a bench scraper. If you don't have one, I'm going to highly suggest you run out and get one. A bench scraper will help you transfer delicate cookies to the baking sheet, it will get stuck cookie dough un-stuck from the counter, and at the end of the day it will scrape up all the cookie dough residue off your counter and make clean up a lot easier. It's also great to portion dough when you're making yeast bread, too.

The most important thing about this recipe (or any rolled cookie recipe) is making sure that your dough is rolled perfectly evenly. If you have some thick places and some thin places in your dough, the cookie will cook unevenly and you'll have some parts that are crispy and brown and some parts that are underbaked. You can buy rolling guides to help you, but mine are homemade. Mike cut them from some hardwood and sanded them for me, in 1/8" and 1/4" thicknesses. I need to get him to make me a pair in 3/8", too.

These cookies are best rolled either 1/4" or 3/8" thick. Lightly coat your counter, your rolling pin, and both sides of the dough with flour. Use as little flour as possible, as too much flour will make the cookies tough. If you're using rolling guides, you just squish the dough down until it's almost the right thickness, add the guides, and then roll on top of the guides until the dough and the guides are the same thickness.

As you can see, I didn't roll in a perfect circle. Firstly, I'm not very good at it! Secondly, it doesn't really matter. It's not pie crust, it's cookie dough!

Cut out your shapes. I used all kinds of cookie cutters, because I had a two-year-old helper and she wanted to use every cutter in the box. If I were doing this by myself, such as to make cookies for a client, I'd make an entire tray of just one shape cookie. It's easier to fit them on the dough, there's less re-rolling, and they will cook more evenly than if they are a bunch of different shapes and sizes.

There are several ways to get the cookies from the counter to the baking sheet. I like to cut them all out, but leave them stuck in the dough. Then, I carefully peel away all the excess dough.

Now it's easy to get to each cookie and either carefully pick it up, or slide a bench scraper under it if necessary, and take it to the baking sheet.

I always use a Silpat to bake cookies. Nothing is worse than all your hard work sticking to the baking sheet! If you don't have Silpat, then use parchment paper. Reynolds sells some right next to the aluminum foil and waxed paper at the grocery store now. 

Now, this is a really big baking sheet. In fact, this is a professional full sheet pan. This pan won't fit in most people's ovens, and only barely fits into mine. Don't expect to get this many cookies on one sheet! You need to give them a little bit of room. They don't spread much, but they bake more evenly if they aren't crowded.

One of the worst things about baking sugar cookies is when they spread, ruining your lovely design. To insure against spreading, put your filled baking sheet of cookies in the freezer for 10 minutes before baking. That's just enough time to re-roll your dough and fill your second sheet of cookies, any way. I don't have a freezer big enough to fit a full sheet pan, so in cold weather I put mine out in the garage for 20 minutes. When I'm baking in the summer, I just have to use smaller pans so they'll fit in my overcrowded freezer. :)

After the shapes have chilled, pop ONE sheet of cookies into the middle of a 350 degree oven for five minutes. Then rotate the cookie sheet and bake for another six minutes or so.  I know that it's a pain to only cook one sheet at at a time, and a pain to rotate them. However, this is how you get them to cook evenly.

The cookies are done when they are firm when touched and are only slightly brown on the edges. It's really more of a blonde than a brown. 

 If the cookies actually brown, they'll be very crunchy. Here's a star that got a little thin on one edge, and has moved into crunchy territory:

Here's what a perfectly done cookie will look like on the bottom: 

Transfer your cookies to racks to cool. You're ready to frost and decorate! Have fun!

Red Wicket Rolled Sugar Cookies

(Makes about 3 dozen 3" cookies)

3 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to cool room temperature. It should be bendable but not squishy.
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder, set aside. Beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and extracts and mix until thoroughly combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom.

The dough will be crumbly, so knead it together with your hands as you scoop it out of the bowl for rolling.

Roll 1/4" thick onto a floured surface and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets (I recommend freezing the cut out shapes on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before baking to insure against spreading) and bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.