These are close to the perfect cookies Raeanne Hytone bakes for her custom cookie business, Raebakes.com. The secret to good-tasting sugar cookies, she says, is to bake them until uniformly golden brown. For more of her advice, see "Tips From the Experts."
The meringue powder used in the icing usually contains egg whites, cornstarch, sugar and some stabilizers; it is available at kitchen stores and baking supply stores.
Decorated cookies may be individually wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 2 months. Baked, undecorated cookies may be stored between sheets of parchment or wax paper in airtight containers and frozen for up to 2 months.
Servings: 60 cookies
- For the cookies
- 11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon whole or low-fat milk (do not use nonfat)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- For the icing
- 1 pound confectioners' sugar
- 3 tablespoons meringue powder
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla or other extract (optional)
- 5 to 7 tablespoons warm water, or as needed (depending on use; outlining or flooding consistency)
For the cookies: In the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed, combine the butter and sugar; beat for a few minutes to no more than a sandy consistency. Add the egg, milk and vanilla extract, mixing well.
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt on a sheet of parchment or wax paper. On low speed, slowly add to the butter-sugar mixture until a soft dough forms. Transfer to a large piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a disk; refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours. (If refrigerating for many hours, let the dough sit out for about 30 minutes to become pliable enough to roll.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready 4 large, rimmed baking sheets; line 2 of them with parchment paper and place those on top of the remaining 2 sheets (for a double-pan effect).
Using about 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll between sheets of plastic wrap to a thickness of 1/8 inch and chill or freeze to set up. Cut into shapes. (You may reroll scraps of dough.) Transfer the shapes to the parchment-lined baking sheets and chill or freeze again for at least 10 minutes or until firm.
Bake for at least 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom as necessary, until the cookies are lightly and uniformly golden brown (this may take as long as 30 minutes or more). Transfer to racks to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the icing: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the confectioners' sugar and meringue powder. Add vanilla or other flavored extract, if using, and about 4 tablespoons of the water. Turn on the mixer to its lowest speed; keep watching and beat for about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and adding 1 tablespoon of water to maintain a thick, glossy and smooth consistency (for outline icing). Cover the bowl with a damp towel until ready to use. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water as needed to thin the icing to the consistency needed for filling, or flooding, inside the piped outlines. Separate into smaller containers and use paste coloring to create colored icings as desired. Transfer the icing to piping bags with a No. 1 tip or to resealable plastic storage bags with a bottom corner snipped off. Practice on a sheet of wax paper before decorating the cookies.
Adapted from "Sugarbaker's Cookie Cutter Cookbook," by Diana Collingwood Butts and Carol V. Wright (Simon and Schuster, 1997).
Tested by Lucy Shackelford.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at firstname.lastname@example.org.