Disclaimer: At least one hour before you begin, set out your 2 eggs. They have to be at room temperature and eggs are too temperamental to heat in the microwave!
Before I attended culinary school I was destined to become a great chemist, or pharmacist, or marine biologist…if I could ever decide. I just knew I had always loved science and wanted to stay in the field. It’s one of the main reasons I love cooking, especially baking. Taking two ingredients, mixing them at the right temperature, in the right quantities, and producing something mouthwateringly great is truly a joy for me. Consequently, you can usually catch me with my hands in some sort of dough - like these sugar cookies, which I make on a weekly basis to the detriment of my dentist and the delight of my littles!
Let me walk you through it. As always, technical tips are in BOLD!
Before we begin, a few notes on ingredients:
Flour: King Arthur, always. I know that sometimes we buy what’s on sale or what’s available at Dollar General at midnight the night before your kid’s class Christmas party…we’ve all been there. The truth is that my cookies never turn out as well if I use any other brand than King Arthur. This is because of the high protein content in their all-purpose which helps my baked goods rise better, as well as their dedication to consistency. I know that every time I buy a bag, the protein content will have been measured by hand, always unbleached, and also, huge bonus, made in the USA.
Butter: I buy Land-o-Lakes butter because it’s what my mom used. They have recently released the European Style cream butter and I have started purchasing it for various things. The fat content is higher and it makes for a flavorful cookie, so I used it in this recipe. Any kind of butter will work; however, just make sure it’s unsalted. I like to add in my own salt (it’s a control thing).
Eggs: I use two large eggs, preferably a few days old, if not older. When eggs age, the proteins become more relaxed and do not hold together as well. If you crack a fresh egg in a pan it will stay together compared to a week-old egg that will spread to cover a lot more pan surface. You want your eggs at a spreadable point so they will mix into your dough evenly.
Baking Powder: Clapper Girl is my go-to but I have also used other brands and been equally happy. The main thing to remember with baking powder is that it does have an expiration date. If your baking powder is aged, the amount of lift and stability in your cookies is dramatically less than if you use a brand-new container. I’m not saying run out and buy a new container just for this recipe, but just glance at your expiration date. If it says 2001 like the one I found in my mom’s pantry last week, probably best to throw it out.
Vanilla Bean Paste: Now, you can use good old vanilla extract for this recipe but I’m here to tell you that if you want the BEST sugar cookie you have ever made, buy this paste. It contains actual ground vanilla beans and the flavors are so much stronger than vanilla extract. I promise you it’s worth the $25 on Amazon. I use this in place of vanilla extract in every recipe I make. It’s a decent size bottle and will last for a while.
You will also need:
1.Place butter in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Butter must be soft. You can leave on the counter for a couple of hours or if taking directly out of fridge, place in the microwave on 50% power for 10 seconds then flip to the other side for 10 more seconds.
2.Add sugar to room temperature butter and cream the sugar and butter on medium speed.
THIS PICTURE IS NOT CREAMED!
You cannot simply mix the butter and sugar until it comes together. “Creamed” means that you have whipped them together long enough that the sugar has dissolved slightly into the butter and it has taken on a lighter color and CREAMY texture, like the next photo. Do not skip this step. It is extremely important for even cookies.
THIS IS CREAMED!
3.Next, add eggs. You want your eggs at room temperature as well.
As with age, temperature can also affect egg proteins. When eggs are cold the proteins bind together and prevent the egg from easily separating. When they are warmed, the proteins will split and will mix completely into your dough without any trouble. If the eggs are not at room temperature when mixed you can end up with a flat cookie or yellow yolk streaks on your pretty white cookie, both of which you do not want.
When mixing the eggs you want to break one at a time in your dough. Mix the first completely into the dough on medium speed then scrape the bowl and mix again. Now you can add your second egg and mix and scrape again.
4.You want to combine your flour, salt, and baking powder and mix well in a separate bowl. I sift all of these together to produce a nice silky flour mixture. You do not have to sift, I don’t always. It does make for a smoother cookie, however.
5.Add half of your flour mixture to the stand mixer bowl and turn on low speed. You want the mixture on no more than speed 2. Keep an eye on the flour until it’s barely incorporated into the egg mixture. Cut the mixer off and scrape down the side of the bowl. Turn the mixer on speed 2 and add the second half of the flour. Mix just until it all comes together in a ball, no more, like the photo below! It’s very important not to over-mix your dough once you have added your leavener (the baking powder). The baking powder will activate the glutens in the flour and when overworked, glutens become tough and chewy. We want a fluffy, tender cookie so be careful with your mixing, watch it closely!
6.Turn out your dough into a gallon Ziplock or Tupperware container, like mine in the photo below. Place in freezer for at least an hour. Cold dough with roll out much easier than room temperature. Your dough will be too sticky to cut and will not stay together in the oven without first cooling. Be warned if you skip this step, your cookies WILL NOT work as well as the pictures here.
7.After your dough is chilled, you can start to roll it out. Set up your wood board, pastry mat, or whatever you have that is stationary and spread with all-purpose flour. Keep an extra pile to dip your cutter in if needed. I take a section at a time out of the freezer to roll. If its super chilled and hard, knead with your hand until it starts to roll out. Roll out until dough is 1/2 inch thick. You obviously don’t have to measure with a ruler but just be aware not to roll too thin. Your cookie will crisp and spread out of its shape more easily if too thin, and you want a nice thick cookie!
8.Use your favorite cutter dipped in flour to cut. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Once you have cut enough shapes that can fit on you dough, grab the scraps and combine to roll out one more time. I will only re-roll the scrap dough once. Be mindful the more you work the dough the likelihood of the cookie spreading in the oven increases. When pan is filled place in the refrigerator to cool. If your cookies are cool when they enter the hot oven, they will retain their shape better. Turn your oven on and keep cookies in the refrigerator until oven is preheated. Bake for 8 minutes. The bottoms should be slightly colored and the tops should not have any brown on them. Let them cool and then prepare your favorite icing!