The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies

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This holiday season I went on a hunt to find the perfect sugar cookie recipe. This was by no means an easy task since cookbooks and blogs alike are littered with recipes purporting to be the best sugar cookie. I settled on making a few adaptations to a recipe I found on Allrecipes that had a whopping 5,897 reviews with a 4.5 out of 5 star rating.

There are a few things that I really like about this recipe. So often sugar cookies are bland and tasteless, and when this happens we rely on cloyingly sweet frosting to make up for this deficit. These cookies pack an extra punch of flavor with both vanilla and lemon extract. Many times when I’ve worked with sugar cookies the dough was simply too warm to roll out and cut shapes. I’ve found that the best solution is to simply refrigerate the dough overnight. Many recipes say you can get by with only an hour or two, but I haven’t found this to be the case. It’s best to just plan ahead and make the dough the night before.

I know this recipe comes a little belatedly for any holiday cooking, but I hope that you tuck this one away. This will certainly be my new “go-to” recipe for all things sugar cookie related! On a different note, I hope that everyone has a wonderful Christmas. Matt and I are finishing up our drive to Minnesota today. I wish safe travels to all of you that are traveling for the holiday. I’m signing off until 2014, so I hope that your New Year’s is wonderful as well!

The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies
Makes approximately 5 dozen

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Ingredients
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
3 cups white sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Directions
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs, vanilla, and lemon extract. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Form dough into two balls, cover with plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
This recipe has a built-in trick that I really love. Instead of using flour when you roll out your cookie dough, the recipe calls for powdered sugar. This solves the problem that has always plagued my baking which is caked-on four after rolling out your cookie dough. I think this tip is ingenious! After all, no one’s going to complain if there’s a little extra powdered sugar on the bottom of their cookie.

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Sugar Cookies with Fondant Icing

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You know what’s hectic? Moving. I think it must be hectic for everyone.

This week I’m moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan— the land of blue and maize. Moving always feels like the perfect time to reflect on things. It’s seems inevitable as you sift through papers and photographs that have piled up over the years. As I’ve been packing and labeling boxes this week, I’ve reflected on some of my favorite DC memories. Consequently, I put together a list of my favorite things to do in DC that I think everyone should try—whether you’re a resident or a tourist. Enjoy.

Heather’s Top Ten DC To-Do List

1. Take a drop in adult dance class at Joy of Motion Dance Studio. I would recommend jazz with Derrick Brown at the Atlas studio on Tuesdays at 7:00.

2. Indulge in some delicious moules and frites at Granville Moore’s on H Street. Afterwards treat yourself with a slice of pie from Dangerously Delicious Pies which is right across the street.

3. Take a walk down to the fish market on Maine Avenue. The Maryland blue crabs are literally crawling out of the baskets and I guarantee you won’t find fresher seafood anywhere else in the district. Sure it smells fishy, but what can you really expect?

4. Get ready to dance the night away to reggae and dancehall at Patty Boom Boom on U Street. It might be hot and crowded, and the rum punch definitely leaves something to be desired, but every night I’ve had here has been a memorable one.

5. Do your part to save the environment by going car-less and signing up for Zipcar. Three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that I could survive DC without a car. Zipcar makes it possible by making easy to reserve a car for the inevitable errand that strays away from a metro or bus line.

6. Schedule a boat tour on the Potomac during the cherry blossom festival. You’ll escape the throngs of crows around the tidal basin and for $15 you can spend an hour getting a guided tour of the riverfront and an up close look at the blossoms.

7. If I had to pick one museum on the mall, I’d send you to the Hirshhorn museum and sculpture garden. The museum is shaped in a circle and you can easily get lost in the exhibits as you wander around. There’s even a theater in the basement that features unique short videos. Don’t forget to head across the street to enjoy the sculpture garden.

8. Get involved and give back to the community by volunteering with Little Lights Urban Ministries. Whether it’s once a month or once a week—set aside some of your free time to work with under-served youth and families in the area.

9. Enjoy the fall colors at Shenandoah National Park which is only a short drive from DC. Matt and I went camping here twice and it’s a lovely get away from the bustle of the city.

10. If you’re in the mood for a low-key music event, catch a jazz performance at Twins Jazz. Keep an eye out for Groupon deals that will give you a nice shot a reduced priced tickets.

Oh, also!

I made some sugar cookies in the shape of the DC “state.” I got this cookie cutter from my favorite DC baking good store, Hill’s Kitchen. I’ve told you about them before, but the store is amazing and the people that work there are knowledgeable—and they have free samples from a local bakery on the weekend. I topped these cookies with fondant icing. Usually I’m not a fan of fondant, but for some reason it really works with these cookies—I promise.

Sugar Cookies with Fondant Icing

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Cookie Ingredients
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Fondant Icing Ingredients
1 pound mini marshmallows
2 pounds 10x confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp flavorings (vanilla, orange, peppermint, etc.)
4 tablespoons water
1/4 cup vegetable shortening for coating hands and bowl
equal parts confectioner’s sugar and cornstarch for dusting

Directions for Sugar Cookies
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight). Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

Directions for Fondant Icing
Place confectioner’s sugar into one mixing bowl, and set aside. Use some of the vegetable shortening to coat the inside of a large bowl. Add marshmallows to the coated bowl. Add your flavorings and 4 tablespoons of water. Place this bowl over a double boiler with 1 inch of simmering water. Stir the marshmallows until they have all melted.

Once the marshmallows have completely melted, add this mixture to the bowl with the confectioner’s sugar. Mix this on low speed (or by hand) until a “dough” is formed. Rub your work surface and hands with some of the vegetable shortening. Turn the dough out onto your prepped surface. Incorporate any crumbled mixture left in the bowl into the dough. Knead the dough until it is smooth. Only dust the surface with a bit of the cornstarch mixture if the dough is too sticky.

Mix in the coloring at this point. Coat your hands with vegetable shortening to keep the color off of them. Once the color is incorporated wrap in plastic wrap and let fondant rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. After the 20-30 minutes have passed, use the fondant as needed. If the fondant is too cold to knead, heat in the microwave for 15-20 seconds and test. Repeat if necessary.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
To store fondant, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then place this inside a resealable freezer bag. Remove as much air from the bag as possible. Fondant will keep for 6 months at room temperature.

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The Ninth Day of Christmas: Frosted Sugar Cookies

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Most of my friends know what they’re getting for Christmas this year. Cookies… and lots of them. In fact, you don’t even have to be on my gift giving list to get some cookies. I’ve been handing out plates of cookies to my next door neighbor, the guy that works at the front desk in my apartment building, my coworkers… I even left a plate of cookies anonymously in our break room.

This week I came across another outlet for my holiday cookies. Every holiday season we have a fundraiser at work to raise money for local charities. This year we introduced a silent auction as a part of our fundraising efforts. I donated twelve dozen Christmas sugar cookies to be delivered to the winner on a pre-determined date. The bidding was competitive and at the end of the day, my cookies sold for $30.

After checking in with the winner, I learned that my cookies would be making their debut at a dinner party as a dessert. I had a fun time making them knowing they’d be going someplace special. And more importantly, knowing they wouldn’t be sitting around my kitchen tempting me like all the other baked goods in my apartment.

Day Nine: Frosted Sugar Cookies IMG_0336

Cookie Ingredients
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Frosting Ingredients
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 egg whites, beaten

Directions
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight). Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

In a bowl, sift together confectioners’ sugar and cream of tartar. Using electric mixer, beat in 2 beaten egg whites for about 5 minutes or until mixture is thick enough to hold its shape. Add desired food coloring to frosting and transfer into a piping bag for decoration.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
It’s easy to make swirls in your frosting like I did for the snowflakes. Simply fill your sugar cookie with your base color and then immediately put dots of a second color on top. Then use a toothpick to swirl the colors together. It’s important to work quickly so the frosting doesn’t start to set before you swirl the colors together.

The Eighth Day of Christmas: Candy Cane Sugar Cookies

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Family traditions are one of the things I look forward to the most during the holiday season. Our family has a December tradition of traveling “Up North” for a getaway weekend to escape the bustle of the holidays. We all pack into the car and drive up to the Gunflint Lodge where our cell phones don’t get service, and you can get a spotty wireless connection at the lodge—if you’re lucky. It’s a great opportunity to unplug and simply enjoy time with family.

We make wreaths, decorate the lodge, go on nature hikes, drink hot chocolate, eat more food than we know we should, and enjoy time quality time with each other. This year I took some photos of our trip so that I could share them with you.

While we were tucked away in the north woods, my dad and I made some candy cane sugar cookies. I’d gotten the recipe from a co-worker and was excited to try it out. Given the fact that I was working with limited baking supplies, I tried to cut a few corners and purchased store bought cookie dough. My vision was that the cookies would have some more shape to them, but alas that was not the case. You’ll see the recipe calls for some additional flour that should allow your cookies to hold their shape a little better. Regardless, enjoy this unique twist on a traditional sugar cookie for the eighth day of Christmas.

Day Seven: Candy Cane Sugar Cookies
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Ingredients
1 (18 ounce) package refrigerated sugar cookie dough, softened
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Red and green gel food coloring

Directions
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cookie dough, flour and extract until smooth. Divide the dough into three equal portions. Mix green food coloring into one section and red food coloring into the second section. Leave the remaining section plain. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Shape 1 tablespoon of each color dough into 6 inch ropes. Place the ropes side by side, press together, and lightly twist. Feel free to be creative with your color combinations—green and red, red and white, green and white, or even try all three!

Place rope of dough on an ungreased baking sheet and curve into a candy cane shape. Repeat with remaining dough, placing cookies 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until set. Cool for 2 minutes before carefully removing to wire racks.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
You’ll see that I’ve called for 3 tablespoons of additional flour in this recipe. This is because when I originally made the recipe, the cookies didn’t hold their shape like I was hoping. If you ever find that your cookies spread too much and lose their shape in the oven, try adding more flour to the dough at 1 tablespoon increments, until cookies retain their shape when baking.

The Sixth Day of Christmas: Colorful Candy Bar Cookies

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Around the holidays my own personal jukebox operates inside my head. I walk around humming and whistling holiday tunes as they enter my head. When I’m in my apartment, nothing can be completed without some accompanying Christmas music. I bake cookies to Frosty the Snowman, I wash dishes to White Christmas, I fold laundry to We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and I even read my books with Santa Baby in the background. You’re beginning to see my point… everything is accompanied by Christmas music, which mostly comes in the form of my Pandora radio station. This obsession typically begins the day after Thanksgiving and lasts up until the New Year.

Today, I decided I’d share some of my favorite Christmas songs of the moment. I say the moment, because sometimes my favorite songs vary by the day. However, I will admit that I have been obsessively listening to #1 on my list which is Mistletoe by Justin Bieber. I’m a big fan… I must ask for no judgment on this point. But enough talk about JB. Enjoy my top 10 Christmas songs which I present to you on this sixth day of Christmas.

1. Mistletoe- Justin Bieber

2. All I Want for Christmas Is You, Mariah Carey
3. Someday At Christmas, Stevie Wonder
4. Baby It’s Cold Outside, Glee Cast
5. Now Behold the Lamb, Kirk Franklin
6. This Christmas, Donny Hathaway
7. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, Gayla Peevey
8. Let It Snow, Boys II Men
9. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, DMX
10. Carol of the Bells, Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I hear you exclaiming… “What about the cookies?!” Well, these sugar cookies pack an extra punch inside them. I figured everybody makes sugar cookies for Christmas, so why not make something a little extra special. That’s exactly what these cookies manage to do. Not only do they have a delicious candy bar surprise in the middle, but they are also coated with festive holiday sprinkles to make them eye-appealing! Enjoy this fun twist on your traditional sugar cookies.

Day Six: Colorful Candy Bar Cookies
Adapted from Taste of HomeIMG_5787

Ingredients
1/2 tube sugar cookie dough, softened (it’s okay to cheat)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
24 miniature Snickers candy bars
Red and green colored sugar

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, beat cookie dough and flour until combined. Shape 1-1/2 teaspoonfuls of dough around each candy bar. Roll in colored sugar. Place 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Don’t have miniature candy bars on hand? Instead of using miniature candy bars, slice regular size Snickers candy bars into 1 inch pieces for the centers.