Yesterdish’s Sugar Cookies

Hi friends, it’s Dori again. I’m back this week to share my sugar cookie recipe.

I say my sugar recipe, but that’s not totally true. It’s Alton Brown’s recipe.

Most of the recipes I share with you started out as someone else’s recipes. Then I shape and refine them to be exactly what I want. For example, I always eliminate almond extract (dying) and nutmeg (yuck) and add orange extract whenever possible. I add cornstarch to cakes, swap out AP flour for bread flour in cookies (it makes them chewy), and always adjust cooking times.

I wish could say that for this recipe, but, in truth, I barely changed it all.

If you do it right, this is a really friendly, easy dough.

It’s just a perfect recipe. It’s simple and reliable. The cookies are light, slightly crisp, and just a little sweet. They are surprising and frustratingly addictive. Those frosted holiday cookies aren’t supposed to taste so good!

(I did make one change — salted butter. Here at Yesterdish, we only use salted butter. It stays fresher long and I promise it won’t make your cookies taste salty. Most cookies could use a little salt anyway!)

Even if I can’t improve the recipe, I can give you a few pointers to make sure your cookies are perfect.

The first place you can trip up is creaming the butter and sugar. The butter has to be room temperature and you have to beat it for about 10 times as long as you think you do. Seriously. People think 30 seconds is plenty. It is not. Five minutes. Seven if you’re nasty.

The second place it can go wrong is if you don’t chill it. This dough has to be cold to behave. I like to make the dough the day before so baking feels like less work. If you are making this dough for, say, a cookie decorating party, you can portion it before you chill it. That way you can hand your guests perfectly portioned balls of dough (and they can feel like they baked even though you totally did all the work).

If you do it right, this is a really friendly, easy dough. It doesn’t need to be beaten into submission, it doesn’t need a lot of powdered sugar. It wants to bend to your will!

Adam’s Happy Fun Old-Timey Corner

While the basic formula for sugar cookies hasn’t changed much in American history, the amount of butter has slowly increased (when measured in proportion to the sugar, since the older recipes don’t specify how much flour to use). Traditionally, most sugar cookies were flavored with nutmeg (yum) or lemon. Since Dori doesn’t like nutmeg, here are two 19th-century nutmeg-free iterations, if you’re looking for a historical comparison, from the June 6, 1861 edition of the The Plymouth (Indiana) Weekly Democrat and the November 18, 1870 edition of the Coshocton (Ohio) Age:

Sugar Cookies–One egg; 1-1/2 cups of powdered sugar; 3/4 [cups] of butter; 1 teaspoonful of essence of lemon; flour enough to roll soft. Ruth E.W.
Dansville, N.Y., 1861.
Sugar Cookies.

Two cups sugar, four eggs, one cup of butter, one cup of sour cream, two teaspoonfuls saleratus, one teaspoonful cream tartar.

The intimidating part of these cookies isn’t the cookie part, though–it’s the icing. We’ve all seen it go wrong. (If it does go wrong, it’s helpful to have children around to blame.)

The recipe for it is simple: mix powdered sugar and milk. Done.

A word of advice before you start mixing: start with lots of sugar and a tiny bit a milk. It’s easy to thin, more difficult to thicken.

I start by making a thick paste that is roughly the consistency of toothpaste. Add coloring and flavoring (if you’re into that). Then, put half the mixture into a pastry bag or freezer bag (sandwich bags stretch too much) and leave the other half in the bowl. Add a little milk to the icing left in the bowl to thin it out.

Use the icing to pipe a border on each cookie. Wait for it to set. Then drop the thinned icing into the middle an use a toothpick to push it into place. (I used some small squeeze bottles to drop the thin icing, but you can just spoon it on of you like.)

And you’re done! Really, these are so much fun to make. They are a great low-stress holiday project to do when you need to keep your family busy. Sugar makes everyone nicer!

From Yesterdish’s recipe box.

Yesterdish’s Sugar Cookies

1 c. salted butter, soft
1 c. sugar
3 c. all purpose flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 egg
1 Tbsp. milk

powdered sugar

Orange, lemon, or peppermint extract

Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer–at least 5 minutes.

Add egg, milk. Beat until combined.

Mix flour, salt, baking powder in a different bowl. Slowly add flour mixture to mixer. Mix until dough pulls away from the sides.

Divide dough, if desired. Wrap and refrigerate 2+ hours. Roll dough out to 1/4 inch thick; use powdered sugar to prevent sticking. Cut with cutters, knife, etc.

Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheet at 375 deg. for 6-8 minutes; turn halfway. Cool on a wire rack.

Frosting: Combine milk and powdered sugar; pipe and fill. Add flavor to frosting if desired.

Let frosting set before storing.

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