Time for Special Cookies


First published on 12/17/12

Two rolled cookie recipes–old fashioned sugar cookies and Swedish ginger cookies–are included today, along with a basic powdered sugar frosting, but first, some reminiscing.

The local paper this week featured a woman with over a thousand different cookie cutters. While I never came close to that number, I did have a collection that included everything from basic circles to an over-sized Mickey Mouse. I don’t remember where the huge lime green mouse cutter came from, but I do know that it was never used, just like many of the others I amassed over the years.

Christmas shapes monopolized my collection, but I did have a lot of animals and a few for other holidays like a fat turkey and a shamrock. Over the years, one set of the Christmas cookie cutters ended up becoming decor for my kitchen at the holidays and most of the rest just sat in their old three pound coffee can storage home.

I enjoy the memories of decorating cut out cookies with the kids over the years, but I also know that these are not at all my favorite cookies, both for flavor (I have never cared for any kind of frosting) and all the effort that goes into them. I have also gone through far too many recipes that turned out to be almost impossible to roll easily.

So, a few years ago, I took the drastic step of giving almost all my cookie cutters away–even more than I intended as it turns out, since a container of “keepers” ended up going out the door to the thrift store too.  Suddenly, I had almost no cookie cutters when I began making a batch of cookies for the grandchildren to frost and sprinkle to death. Thanks to the dollar store, however, I now have six basic shapes, in addition to the round biscuit/donut cutter that makes a wonderful wreath, and this small number of choices has really made it easier to cut out cookies with little ones. No more lengthy decisions over which of dozens of shapes to cut; just make another tree and one more star and you are done.

Now my only decision process involves which recipe to make. While the cake mix dough is a great, easy fall back recipe (you can find that one at cake mix cookies), I really wanted to make some “from-scratch” ones today. So there are now two balls of dough chilling and ready to cut out later today.  One thing I have learned over the years:  If you are going to make rolled out cookies for the holidays, try to do them all at once. You’ll have just one day of flour-y messes on the table, one extended oven use, and only one clean up of cookies, rolling pin, etc.)

The first batch of the day is a basic sugar cookie. Over the years this has been perhaps the hardest kind to get “right.” The following is based on one from an “antique” recipe card in my mother’s files, a promotional recipe from Robin Hood flour.  It is not all that different from many others that I have tried, but this one seems to have just the right mix of butter, sugar, and flour to roll easily and not end up tough or flavorless. I have enhanced it with more extracts to further remove it from blandness, but other than that, the recipe stands much as it was written years ago.

Robin Hood Sugar Cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened (but not melted)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup milk

1.  Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the egg and extracts until well mixed and light. 
2.  Sift the flour and baking powder together and add alternately with the milk. Stir just until the mixture is well blended.
3.  Form into a ball with your hands and chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. This makes the dough easier to roll out.
4.  Roll to desired thickness and cut in desired shapes. Use a mixture of about half powdered sugar, half flour for rolling the dough. This will keep the cookies from becoming tough due to too much flour mixed in–always a danger if you have lots of little “helpers” in the rolling and cutting step.
NOTE:  The original recipe suggests sprinkling the cookies with sugar at this point. However, because we always frost these, I omit that step.
5.  Bake at 375 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness of the cookies. They should begin to turn lightly golden at the edges. If you press lightly on the center of a cookie, it should spring back.
6.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on racks before frosting.

After frosting and decorating the cookies, allow them to dry thoroughly. Then store in a tightly covered container, placing waxed paper between each layer of cookies. 

The yield is hard to determine, as it will depend on the size of the cookie cutters being used as well as the thickness you choose. Thicker cookies will be softer and more cake-like while those rolled more thinly will be more crisp.

Decorating the cookies

Materials and equipment for any really fun decorating time could/should include the following:

  • Frosting–I make one gigantic batch of powdered sugar icing (see below) and then divide it into smaller bowls, with food coloring added to each. We always have lots of green and red, with smaller amounts of blue and yellow. Over half of the frosting remains uncolored, as white is the best backdrop for many sprinkle toppings, and this allows me to add dye to more of any specific color that may run out early. 
  • Sprinkles and colored sugars–the sky is the limit on these. If you are frugal, you will watch for markdowns after the holidays, since the shelf life is virtually endless and the size of these little bottles is so small, there is not a lot of trouble in keeping them from season to season.
  • chocolate chips, M and Ms, etc.
  • Red hot cinnamon candies–This is another item that is often available at very low prices after both Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and no reindeer cookie seems complete without a red cinnamon nose
  • Craft sticks (see photo)–These are probably the very best frosting spreaders for little hands and for somewhat detailed additions to the decorations
  • Toothpicks–These are even better if you have “artists” working in really fine detail on cookies
  • Small dishes that are fairly flat but that have resealable covers–these are the kinds of containers that are best for each color of frosting. They don’t tip easily, allow even the smallest decorator to use without difficulty and can be closed between decorating sessions without having the frosting dry out
  • Baking sheets or trays with at least a small edge–This is where you want to put the cookies that are having sprinkles poured on, so that tables, floors and everything else don’t become littered with the overflow. These are also helpful for spreading out the cookies to be sure they are completely dry before being put into storage containers.

The second batch of cookies has shown up on this blog before (December 10, 2010, if you want to look it up), but I’m posting the recipe again for ease in locating it. It has an unusual method, so read the instructions before starting out.  Overall, it’s a very easy cookie to make, with the dough exceptionally easy to work with.

Swedish Gingerbread Cookies

2/3 cup dark molasses
2/3 cup sugar
4 teaspoons ginger (we like our cookies spicy, so you could reduce this if desired)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (optional)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2/3 cup butter
1 large egg, slightly beaten
4 to 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1.  Cut the butter into chunks in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

2.  Combine the molasses, sugar, ginger, and cinnamon in a very large saucepan and slowly bring to a boil. When it is just beginning to boil, stir in the baking soda and continue to heat until the mixture is very light and foamy.

3.  Remove from heat and pour over the butter. Stir until the butter is melted and blended in. If the mixture is still very hot, you may want to let it cool for 3 to 5 minutes (no longer) before adding egg.

4.  Beat the egg just enough to mix the yolk and white well and then stir quickly into the molasses and butter mixture.

5.  Stir in the flour a cup at a time and mix well. Toward the end you may want to use your hands to mix evenly, gently kneading the dough to develop a smooth, evenly mixed ball.

6.   Roll out the cookies as thick or as thin as you like. Use a mixture of half powdered sugar and flour on the board you are using to roll out the cookies. I prefer about 1/4 inch thickness for very crisp cookies. Place on well-oiled pans and bake at 350 degrees for 11 to 14 minutes, depending on size and thickness of your cookies. Store tightly covered until ready to decorate.


And finally, a basic powdered sugar recipe for frosting cookies. These measurements will remain quite approximate, since the amount of milk the sugar will absorb can vary quite a bit, probably dependent on the amount of humidity in the air (or phase of the moon, for all I know. It just seems like you always have to add a little more milk and then, oops, now a little too thin, so a little more powdered sugar!) The key for this kind of decorating is to keep the butter content a little lower than a usual butter cream frosting so that it hardens more quickly and thoroughly–the better to stack and store what will soon otherwise take over every square inch of kitchen counter space!)

Powdered Sugar Frosting for Decorating Cookies

1 lb powdered sugar
1 tablespoon softened (or melted) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
milk–about 2 tablespoons to start

Combine the powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add the 2 tablespoons of milk and beat until smooth, adding a small amount of milk at a time to reach the desired consistency. If you add a little too much, just stir in a little more powdered sugar. To color, put small amounts of frosting in separate bowls and add a few drops of liquid food coloring or tiny amounts (I use a toothpick to transfer these) of gel coloring. If the frosting thickens too much to spread, add a few drops of milk and stir well.

Note: The amount of butter can easily be adjusted to another tablespoon or two. The more butter, the softer the finished icing will be. 

Leave a Reply