One of my fondest Christmas memories is baking cookies with my mom. When I was a little girl, every year after the tree has been put up and the house has been decked out with the holiday trimmings, we'd settle at the kitchen table. Mom would have prepared the dough in advance and help me roll out the dough, while my favourite job (aside from eating said cookies!) was to pick whatever cutters I liked and cut them out of the dough.
We never did royal icing on our cookies, which in hindsight, was a good thing for my mom. I mean, what mother really wants their two kids even more hyped up on sugar during the holidays (and twice the mess to clean up)? But jokes aside, we had these adorable cutters with designs and patterns that would get embossed on to the cookies, so icing really wasn't needed to make them special.
I remember how buttery these sugar cookies were, and so fragrant of vanilla. My mom liked them on the softer side, so they were always pulled out just when the sides were starting to turn a light golden brown, creating a perfectly textured sugar cookie.
Years later, I still use the same recipe my mom has been using for years. This is an absolute holiday classic that's easy to make ahead of time, whether it's just the dough or baking the cookies to completion. It also makes for a fun afternoon activity with the kids. Let their imagination and creativity run wild with a little royal icing and a variety of sprinkles and non-pareils.
Makes about 50
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Stir well to blend and set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extract. Stir flour mixture into cream mixture and mix well.
Form dough into three balls. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours for easy handling. (You can make the dough the night before and leave in the fridge overnight to make for quick baking the next day.)
Preheat an oven to 375°F.
Remove one ball at a time so that the rest of the dough doesn't warm up while you're working with the one. Roll dough out, on a floured surface to 1/4-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes. Decorate with coloured sugar, non-pareils, nuts or candies before baking, or leave plain and decorate with icing later.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden around the edges. Cool on wire racks. When completely cooled, decorate with coloured icings if desired.
From Martha Stewart Holiday, 2008
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
5 tablespoons meringue powder
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup water, plus more as needed
Gel paste food colouring (optional)
In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer on low, beat meringue powder, sugar, and the water until smooth, about 7 minutes. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture is the consistency of honey.
Pour icing into a separate bowl for each colour, and tint as desired. Fit pastry bags with small plain round tips; fill each with tinted icing. Use immediately.