These are good, basic sugar cookies that you can decorate for any occasion. The dough is easy to mix and cut out, and the cookies are pleasingly crisp.
Make Ahead: The dough needs to chill in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes or in the freezer for 25 minutes.
Storage Notes: The dough can be wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months.
Servings: 40 - 50
Yield: cookies (2 3/4 inches to 3 1/4 inches wide)
- 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
- 1 2/3 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract or lemon extract (optional)
- 4 1/4 cups unbleached flour, plus more as needed
- Store-bought or homemade, as desired
Beat together the butter, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract and the almond extract, if using, until smooth and well blended, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in about half of the flour. Beat or stir in the remaining flour to form a smooth, slightly stiff dough. If it is very soft, beat or stir in up to 4 more tablespoons of flour; if it is too dry to hold together, beat or stir in a little water, 1 teaspoon at a time. Let the dough stand for 5 to 10 minutes to firm up a bit.
Divide the dough into thirds. Place 1 portion of dough between 2 sheets of parchment or wax paper and roll out to a scant 1/4-inch thickness; check the underside and smooth out any wrinkles. Repeat to roll out the remaining 2 pieces of dough. Stack the 3 dough portions, still with their paper, on a baking sheet and refrigerate for about 45 minutes or until cold and firm; or freeze for about 25 minutes. (Alternatively, divide the dough into three pieces, wrap well and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator.)
When ready to bake, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Spray several large baking sheets with nonstick cooking oil spray.
Working with one portion of dough at a time and leaving the remainder in the refrigerator, place the wrapped dough on a work surface. Gently peel away the top sheet of paper, then pat it back into place. Invert the dough and peel off and discard what is now the top sheet of paper. Use 2 3/4-to-3 1/4-inch cutters to cut out the dough into your desired shapes. If at any point the dough softens too much to handle easily, return it to the refrigerator until firm again. Use a metal spatula to carefully transfer the cookies to the baking sheets, spacing them about 1 1/4 inches apart. Repeat to use all of the dough, re-rolling any scraps and refrigerating them until they are firm enough to cut out. If desired, add sprinkles or decorating sugars.
Bake 1 sheet at a time for 8 to 11 minutes or until the cookies are faintly colored on top and slightly darker at the edges, rotating the pan front to back about halfway through baking. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack for several minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the rack. Allow to cool completely before adding glaze, sprinkles or other decorations.
Adapted from "Simply Sensational Cookies," by Nancy Baggett (Wiley, 2012).
Tested by Nicole Schofer.
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