I originally posted this recipe in my Recipe of the Week pages back in a few years ago. The picture brings back fond memories because my son and I decorated these cookies together. I wanted to share this post again as it’s definitely the right time of year and this recipe has been a classic in my kitchen since I was a kid.
Here in England where I live, there is more emphasis on heavy desserts like Christmas pudding, fruit cake and mincemeat pies but my favourite things to make at Christmastime are the cookies and squares I remember as a child. I remember plate after plate of these sweet treats laid on the buffet after Christmas dinner, and I have to confess, they were my favourite part of the meal! One of the most popular of these delicious morsels is the classic sugar cookie. Cut out in Christmas shapes, and either sprinkled with sugar before baking or iced afterwards, these flaky cookies are a Christmas classic. There must be a million recipes for this cookie out there, but this is mine – from a recipe card in my Mom’s handwriting. They have been a part of Christmas nearly every year since I was a little girl.
1 cup butter (softened to room temperature)
1 ½ cups sifted icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups plain (all purpose) flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the egg and stir to mix. Sift together the flour, soda and cream of tartar. Blend into the butter and egg mixture. Stir the mixture into a sort of ball shape, and put in the refrigerator for at least two hours, longer if possible.
Preheat the oven to about 350º – 375º F or about 150ºC. (Ovens can vary wildly so do go carefully, and err on the side of cooler rather than hotter. You can always bake the cookies longer!) Line baking sheets with greaseproof paper (wax paper). Divide the dough in half, putting one half back in the refrigerator.
Roll out one half of the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of about ¼ inch. Now for the fun part! Cut out shapes using Christmas cookie cutters. Carefully remove the shapes and place them on the baking trays. Half the dough should fill two baking trays. You can re-roll the scraps and cut them out as well, but only do this once or twice or the dough will get very tough.
Place the two baking trays in the oven for about 10 minutes, switching the trays from one oven rack to the other half way through. Cooking time will depend on your oven. The cookies should be just beginning to go golden on the edges. Don’t overcook them though, we are aiming for a pale cookie here! Remove the cookies from the oven and let them sit for a minute or two. Now carefully remove them from the baking trays and place them on wire racks to cool.
Meanwhile, remove the remaining dough from the refrigerator. Roll out, cut out and bake as above.
When the cookies are absolutely cold, you can ice or decorate them as desired. You can make an easy icing from 1 cup icing sugar, ½ tsp flavouring (try vanilla, lemon, peppermint or almond) and 1 ½ tablespoons cream or 1 tablespoon water. Just mix everything together carefully, adding a bit more (or less) water or cream to make a fairly thick but spreadable consistency. You can add a drop of food colouring if desired – try green! I always like to ice the entire cookie in one colour and then sprinkle with decorative sprinkles that you can buy in the baking section of your supermarket – but your creativity is the only limit here. You can decorate these little babies however you like.
If you are in a real hurry and don’t want the fiddle of icing the cookies, sprinkle them with fine white sugar (caster sugar is good) or coloured sugar BEFORE baking. They cook up a bit more golden but you’ve got pretty and delicious cookies fairly quickly this way. I do prefer them iced though!