Every year growing up my mom and my sister and I would make sugar cookies around Christmas time. Now as an adult I have carried on that same tradition with our children and it warms my heart to spend this time with them together, it's something I always look forward to this time of year. I love watching them as they thoughtfully pick and plan their cookie cutter shapes and anticipate the decorating of them as they bake. And then upon decorating each cookie I adore seeing each sweet little detail they add. Some with a lot of icing, some with a little, some with squiggly little lines and some with plops. And as our little ones grow I can already see the slow evolution of their skills, now both precisely placing cutters on the dough where there is space, picking and choosing icing colours accordingly for their item they are making, each little detail being so joyous and exciting to them as they add it. I love it, it's a tradition that I hope to carry on with them as long as possible and one I hope that they too pass on to their children and so on.
The recipes that I have used for sugar cookies has varied from time to time, with the recipe that we used this year and last seeming to be the best from ones we have externally sourced, But nothing compares to the recipe I grew up with (I plan to go back to using this recipe next year). So I'm sharing both recipes today as they really are each amazing in their own ways. The recipe from Canadian Living magazine's "Holiday Baking" issue creates a dough that holds up beautifully with handling, even with repeated rolling and cutting it does not spread upon baking so the shapes come out perfectly. My mom's recipe has the best taste I think and it makes a lighter, flakier cookie.
Basic Sugar Cookie Dough
From Canadian Living magazine (2017 Holiday Baking Issue)
3/4 cup butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
In large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla beat together. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt, stir into butter mixture in three additions. Mix until combined.
Divide dough in half, press into discs, wrap with saran and then refrigerate for 1 hour (you can refrigerate up to 24 hours if you want to make the dough ahead of time).
Let dough stand at room temerpature for about 15 minutes.
Roll out dough and cut desired shapes, repeat until all of the dough is used (I like to flour my surface as well as the top of the dough before rolling it out).
Bake at 375 F until edges and bottom are light golden in colour (about 10-12 minutes). Let cool before icing.
*You can make the cookies and then freeze them for up to 1 month by layering cookies between sheets of waxed paper/parchment paper in an airtight container.
Mom's Sugar Cookies
2/3 cup butter flavor Crisco 3/4 cup sugar 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp milk 1 tsp vanilla 1 egg 2 cups all purpose flour 1 ½ tsps baking powder 1/4 tsp salt Combine Crisco, sugar, milk and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a large bowl and a hand mixer as we did growing up). Beat at medium speed until well blended then beat in the egg. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Mix into the creamed mixture at low speed until well blended.
Form into a disc and cover with saran wrap, refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Roll out ½ of the dough at a time to about 1/8th inch thickness on a floured surface. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet (I like to use parchment paper). Repeat until all of the dough is used up.
Bake at 375 F for 7 to 9 minutes or until set and edges and bottom are golden. Remove immediately to a cooling rack.
Let the cookies cool fully and then decorate.
Here are some of the cookies we did this year. We used both simple icing and butter cream to decorate them (both recipes below). I liked dipping one side of the cookies in a very thin layer of simple icing and then piping on decorative layers with both types.
The sweet sheep were inspired by charming Christmas paintings done by @blessedmommatobabygirls. I came across them this year on her Instagram account and I adored them the minute I saw them!
As you can see, the piped on simple icing sets into the first base layer of thinner icing which makes for a beautiful effect.
I chose to keep all of the designs fairly simple.
It's hard to tell from these phots but the tree and the outline of the train are actually a dark green-they read nearly black on the screen!
And the best cookie decorations of all are definitely the ones done by the kiddos, how adorable are these-precious!
This was the type of icing we always used for our sugar cookies growing up and it's only two ingredients. Just add milk and confectioner's sugar to a bowl (I'll usually make a large bowl and then separate it into smaller ones for mixing in different colours and then place them in piping or Ziploc bags from there for decorating). Add more milk to make it thinner/runnier and more sugar to make it thicker, keep tinkering until you have found your desired consistency for each colour. I also added in a little vanilla to taste (maybe a 1/4 tsp) for the thin icing which I dipped the cookies in (for this technique be sure to let the excess icing drip off upside down over the bowl before placing cookies face up or it will run off all over the place).
Basic Buttercream Icing
6 sticks unsalted butter, softened
9 cups confectioner's sugar (*I use less as I find it too sweet with this much, I suggest starting around 5-6 cups and go from there for your taste)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Beat butter and 3 cups sugar in bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed until combined. Reduce speed to medium-low and continue to beat. Gradually add remaining 6 cups of sugar, 1 cup at a time. On medium-high speed add vanilla. Beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
I then sperate it into smaller bowls and add food colouring as needed before placing them into piping/Ziploc bags for decorating. Alternatively you can just spread the icing over a cookie with a knife or spoon.