These sugar cookies are light and delicate and they're perfect for decorating with royal icing. For this recipe, you'll roll out the dough and cut out the cookies with your favorite cookie cutters.
The thing with rolled cookies is that the more times you roll out the dough, the harder the cookies will turn out. This is because working the dough develops the glutens in the flour and makes them tougher.
And when you're cutting out cookies with cookie cutters, you're going to end up with a certain amount of scraps, depending on what shape your cutters are. You can collect these scraps and reroll them, but those cookies will be tougher. And then you have the scraps from those.
You could roll out the dough and use a pizza cutter to cut it into squares or rectangles so that there are no scraps. Or you could shape the dough into little 1-oz. balls of dough for plain round cookies.
But other than that, what are you going to do? It's sugar cookies. You're going to want them to be in different shapes. All I can recommend is that you plan out the way you cut them so that you have as few scraps as possible. Cut as close to the edge of the dough as you can.
And you can reroll the scraps, and the scraps of the scraps, ad infinitum, but be aware that cookies that are made from the scraps of the scraps are going to be kind of hard.
Another thing about rolling out the dough is that you want to chill it thoroughly first to make it less sticky, and while it's fine to dust your work surface with flour for rolling, don't use any more flour than you need to. Too much flour will also make the cookies come out too hard. Only use enough so that the dough doesn't stick. Or use this ingenious trick: Dust your surface with powdered sugar instead of flour.
The recipe calls for you to wash the tops of the cookies with milk and then sprinkle with sugar. You can skip the milk wash and sugar sprinkles if you're going to be icing the cookies.
Variations on the Recipe
- For a tangier cookie, substitute 1½ tsp lemon extract for the vanilla. Or use almond extract for a nuttier flavor.
- Instead of sprinkling with plain sugar, use colored sugar crystals. You could also dust them with powdered sugar after baking.
- For colored sugar cookies, add food coloring to the dough at the same time you add the flour.
Finally, I like to use cake flour for sugar cookies, because it makes the cookies more delicate, but you could substitute pastry flour or all-purpose flour. Whatever you choose, just make sure you use 400 grams. That means you'll need a digital scale that can be set to grams. (Read more about weighing flour for baking and why it's better than measuring cups.)
- 400 grams/4 cups cake flour (weighed first, then sifted)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (fresh)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (table salt, not Kosher salt)
- 8 ounces/2 sticks butter (unsalted)
- 1 cup sugar (granulated, plus more for sprinkling)
- 1 large egg (beaten)
- 1/4 cup milk (plus more for washing tops of cookies)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Let all the ingredients come to room temperature before you begin. Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt on low speed. Add the egg, milk, and vanilla and mix until blended.
- Sift the flour and baking powder together into a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix only until they're combined.
- Use the heel of your hand to gently flatten the dough into a thick round. Just don't overwork it. Wrap it in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Unwrap the chilled dough, transfer it to a lightly floured (or powdered-sugared) workbench or butcher block and use a rolling pin to roll the dough out quite flat: about one-eighth of an inch thick.
- Cut out the cookies and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Remember, cut them as close together as you can.
- Using a pastry brush, wash the tops of the cookies with milk and sprinkle the tops with sugar. (Unless you'll be icing the cookies.) Bake 8-10 minutes or until the edges and bottoms of the cookies are barely beginning to turn golden brown.
- When the cookies are cool enough to handle but still warm, remove them from the pan and cool them on a wire rack. Let them cool completely if you're going to be icing them.