Like all food trends, Christmas cookies have come and gone throughout the years, as bakers search for the newest and tastiest treats to make for spectacular gifts. However, there is one particular cookie that has been invited back to the holiday parties for decades now, always popular to bake and receive. That would be the sugar cookie, so simple and yet with so very appealing, I tend to think that it has become such a staple of holiday cookie platters mostly due to its versatility. Easily flavored with spices and extracts to suit everyone’s tastes, it’s more of a blank canvas than anything else. Of course, the real draw for me is how easily shaped and decorated sugar cookies can be, allowing for an entirely new look every single holiday season, even if the recipe never changes.
While it would certainly be much quicker to make these classics as drop cookies, it’s all about the cut-outs, if you ask me. Endless varieties of cookie cutters catch my eye every time I find myself shopping for kitchen supplies, and now is the time of year I can put those impulse buys to good use. These shaped cookies can do more than just feed the stomach, but also treat the eyes, and quite possibly elevate one’s mood. The effort put into making these cookies into something special is what truly makes them a perfect gift. It takes a bit of patience, skill, and luck, but I have a few tips to help you get started in case you need some reassurance.
1. Always chill your dough thoroughly before working with it, even if the recipe you’re using doesn’t say to. It will be so much easier to work with when it’s cold, and you will get a smoother surface when it’s not so sticky as well. If you want to take out some extra insurance, you can also toss your rolling pin into the fridge beforehand as well!
2. Can’t find or don’t have a rolling pin in your kitchen? No need to run out to the store, an empty bottle or thick wooden dowel will work just fine.
3. Place your ball of dough directly on the silpat or piece of parchment paper that you plan to bake on. This is an especially good idea if you want to make more intricate pieces, as they are more likely to get mashed and distorted if you need to move them after cutting. You should still lightly flour this surface though, just to prevent any foreseeable mishaps.
4. Lightly flour the rolling pin and cookie cutters to prevent sticking.
5. Thinner is generally better when you’re gauging the thickness of the dough. Of course, you don’t want to so thin that you get holes or tears, but I prefer to keep it about 1/8 of an inch thick. However, as long as the entire length of dough is completely even, you’ll be in good shape. Just keep in mind that thicker cookies will take longer to bake, and are more likely to brown around the edges or stay soft in the middle. And depending on how you like them, that may be a positive thing, too!
6. Lay out as many cookie cutters as possible at once. You’ll get a better idea of how much space you have left, and how best to arrange them to prevent waste.
7. Press down firmly, making sure that the cutters push all the way through your layer of dough. If you remove the shape and discover that your cookie is still attached to the main dough in some areas do not replace the cutter and try again. You’re more likely to add extra unsightly lines than cut it out perfectly. Instead, carefully run a paring knife around the uncut edges, tracing the design exactly.
8. Remove the excess dough between your shapes in manageable strips. Don’t try to peel it all off at once, and definitely don’t rush. The smaller details will need some additional attention to stay intact, so break off the length of extra dough periodically and pick it up fresh from new corners if you get stuck.
9. If at any point your dough isn’t cooperating, chances are that it has simply become too warm. Pop the whole tray back into the fridge for a few minutes to cool down before proceeding and you’ll get much better results.
10. Re-roll scraps no more than two times; beyond that, the dough will become rather tough and unpleasant to eat. Of course, you could always use those cookies as ornaments so as not to waste anything!
That all sounds pretty simple now, right? So if you’re still with me, head on over to the post I wrote a year ago with a few tips on how to ice your perfectly shaped cookies once they’re baked and cooled.