The catch-22 of holiday sugar cutout cookies, or really any cutout cookies, is that with more ingredients butter and egg comes better flavor and texture, but also more spread in the oven. And if you tirelessly spend an afternoon cutting out intricate shapes of trees, mittens and snowflakes, you want them to keep that shape. Meanwhile, flour thickens up dough and stops the spread, but add too much and your cookies can come out powdery, and flavorless.
I humbly believe I have cracked the perfect balance with these cookies. They’re crisp on the edges and soft in the middle, while still maintaining that rich flavor from butter, egg and lots of vanilla. And they don’t spread (like maybe a millimeter if we’re splitting hairs) but hold their shape for a pristine looking final product.
Here’s the best part about this recipe: If you use a food processor (I have directions for food processors as well as stand and hand mixers) you can use butter straight out of the fridge and roll out the dough straight away! No waiting for butter to come to room temperature or trying to force a rock-hard disc of dough into a flat sheet. And all the methods save your countertops and rolling pins from stuck-on dough, as we’re rolling it out between two sheets of parchment. This also prevents you from incorporating too much flour when dusting your work surface or pin. I like my sugar cutout cookies on the thicker side, so I’ve written this recipe for cookies that are 1/4-inch thick, but you could take them down to 1/6-inch — just note that will shorten their baking time.
With this recipe, I divert from my usual preference of unsalted butter. Different brands of butter can actually vary in their salt content, and because of that, bakers and recipe developers like to use unsalted butter to have more control and consistency. However, I find that there is something undeniably nostalgic about the taste of salted butter, and it imparts a much richer flavor to admittedly very plain cookies, which is why I call for it in this recipe. If you want to use unsalted butter for the cookies and buttercream, you can. Just add about 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt to flour mixture in step one, and add 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt or a small pinch of table salt to the buttercream in step 7.
1. Chilled dough is happy dough. Whenever you think the dough is sticking too much, or the cutters are starting to break off the arms and legs of your reindeer and gingerbread men, stick it back in the fridge. Just do it. Simply dousing your pin and dough in flour will make the cookies dry and tough. Blasting the cut-out cookies with 5 minutes of extreme cold in the freezer before they bake also really helps with maintaining their shape.
2. How to transfer the cutouts without breaking them: Dipping your cutters in a little bit of flour can help them avoid sticking, but sometimes the cutter just picks up the cookie, which is nice because then you can just encourage it out onto the sheet with your finger. Make sure the dough is really chilled. If you’ve pressed cutters all over the dough but haven’t transferred the cookies to the baking sheet, a few minutes in the fridge would make transferring all the more easy. I like to remove all the excess dough around a cutout, then angle a a small offset spatula flat under the cutout and shimmy it back and forth to loosen the cutout from the parchment.
3. This dough can be rolled out once, then re-rolled 2 more times. After that I would discard any scraps as the dough can become tough from too much working and flour. Using small cookie cutters can also help use up dough left between bigger shapes.
Of course, why wait until November/December for sugar cutout cookies? I decorated these cookies for Halloween making pumpkins, bats, mummies and ghosts.
Here are some of the tools I used:
–Mini offset spatula, my fave for spreading anything on anything
-Wilton 12 tip for piping stripes on a pumpkin
–Ateco 46 tip for piping the strips on the mummy cookie
-Purple sanding sugar
-Candy eyes from a specialty baking store
–Small tip-less piping bags
I used some of the scrap dough from my Halloween sugar cookies cutouts to make these little leaves for fall. This is one of the easiest techniques to decorate with royal icing (here’s my favorite recipe for it) if you don’t trust your frosting or piping skills.
Just mix a few colors from a similar palette, varying from dark to light, pour a base color into a shallow bowl, then pour the icings in going from dark to light. Just barely swirl them otherwise they’ll run together when the cookie is pressed into the icing. Dip the very tops of the cookies into the icing, let the excess drop off and place them on a wire rack to dry. You can add more drizzles of color and swirl into the icing bowl as you go! I obviously did leaves but you can get creative with black and whites or yellows for stars and moons, purples for bars and cats, oranges for pumpkins. Whatever you want!
Did you make these holiday sugar cutout cookies? I want to see! Tag me @easygayoven on TikTok and Instagram.
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