Which Recipe Should I use?
There are sooooooo many different sugar cookie recipes out there, which one should you be using??
There is no right answer to this. Each recipe has its own pros and cons and it all depends on your preferences. Some people prefer shortbread cookies, some sugar cookies, and some like chocolate ones. It's really up to you. I personally use a sugar cookie recipe because I don't like shortbread and I'm still working on my chocolate cookie recipe.
The very first sugar cookie recipe I learned (and first royal icing recipe) was from my favourite cookie lady of all time, Sweet Sugarbelle. If you're looking for a basic recipe to start you off, hers is the way to go. But remember, any recipe you find may require some playing around and modifications. For example, When I make my dough, I make it slightly wetter than Callie at Sweet Sugarbelle does. This is because I'm heavy handed with my rolling flour. I'm also in Colorado so elevation is a big thing for me.
So with post, I will share the basic recipe I use but I will leave the flavourings, extracts, emulsions, all up to you to play around with. I will also talk about all the various ingredients, and how they work together to help you understand the anatomy of an ingredient as it relates to the overall cookie.
When I make my dough, I use butter that's slightly cooler than room temperature. This to me is EXTREMELY important. If the butter is too hard, it won't cream with the sugar. If it's too soft, you're gonna have giant puddle cookies that spread all over the place. The perfect consistency for me is butter that you can easily stick a fork through and wave it around without falling off. So pull that puppy out of the fridge about 1-2 hours before you use it, and you'll be fine. IN THE EVENT YOU DON'T READ ANYTHING ELSE I WRITE ABOUT BUTTER! and you do the whole room temperature, melty blob thing, make your dough with it anyway, add a little more flour and let it chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
mmmmmmm sugar! So there are several types of sugar, granulated, powder, caster, brown sugar, sanding sugar.......the list goes on. Kitchn has a really informative post (with visuals) on the different types. I use powdered sugar because I like the smooth texture to it. I've used granulated and my cookies end up tasting more sandy. But! REMEMBER if you've had powdered sugar that's been sitting for a while, sift it into your bowl. Don't just dump it. Trust me on this when I say clumpy powdered sure and cookies don't turn out well.
An egg is an egg. nuff said.
Explore with flavouring. Try extracts, emulsions, pastes, oils, and spices. These all add different elements to your cookies. And try various flavour combinations. Some of the tastiest I've tried are lemon and raspberry, lemon and blueberry, lavender and chocolate, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon and vanilla, almond and cherry, and finally, classic vanilla
Baking powder is very important. Too much and your cookies will be spreaded, puffy globs. Too little and your cookies may not bake as well. When you're at altitude (like me) it's important to remember less is more. My original recipe called for 2 tsps of baking powder and eventually I realized I needed to cut this in half. The recipe attached to this post is for cookies at altitude but just play around with this. It's kind of a practice makes perfect type of thing
It's very important that you use regular salt and not salt from a grinder. If you use salt from a grinder, you'll end up with salty crunch bits in your final product. Not a good thing. Trust me, my mom did it......and we still are laughing about it today.
Flour. I like to use all purpose flour. If you use cake flour, your cookies will become fluffy which may or may not work for you. Also, some say sift it, Personally? doesn't really seem to matter. Though take into consideration I go through about 50 lbs of flour a month so nothing is sitting. If you do have flour that's been sitting for a while, I do recommend sifting it. Also don't just dump your flour into your recipe. Using flour is a touch and feel type of thing. Sometimes you need a little more, sometimes a little less. In the end, your consistency should be like mashed potatoes that don't quite stick to your finger. If your dough is too soft, add more. Just be aware that as your dough sets, it will dry up a bit so I make mine SLIGHTLY wetter to account for this. Just remember if it sticks to your finger, it needs more flour and don't forget to make sure the bottom of your mixer isn't leaving a crumbly mess.
Oven temps and chilling.
Know your oven. If it's new or if you haven't baked a lot, realize that 400 degrees is not always 400 degrees. Your oven temp can vary and this impacts baking time and overall cookie outcome. I always do a test batch at 400 for 5 minutes and see how long it takes my cookies to finish from there. Then I can base the rest of them around that. You can also buy an oven thermometer. I opted for the don't-spend-money-where-you-don't-need-to option but if you have one, use it.
Some people chill their dough first, some people cut then chill. I don't have the room in my fridge to cut then chill so I chill it after I make it. This is important because if the dough or butter is/was too soft when you made it, this will firm it up and keep your cookies from spreading. It also allows the sugar, butter, and flavouring time to soak into your dough giving it more flavour. Overall, I'd say make your dough, chill it in the fridge for 1 hr or freezer for 30 min and you should be good to go. If you've been chilling your dough in the fridge overnight, pull it out about an hour before you need to use it and let it warm up a bit or you're going to be trying to roll a brick.
And that's it! you've learned about the anatomy of a sugar cookie! Now get to it and start baking!
Thanks for reading