It snowed in Vancouver. Which made it profoundly important to bake sugar cookies shaped like Christmas trees and cover them in sparkles. It also means my willpower broke and I busted out the faux-garland, the family of snowmen, the giant stockings, and the sparkly Christmas wreath. And yes, I have already watched Elf. There’s no going back, people, Christmas is happening.
I took Oliver out to the park to play in the snow and I threw snowballs for him to chase. But each time he arrived at the spot where the snowball had landed, it had disappeared into the snowy ground, like magic. He looked up at me mystified (an expression he wears frequently) – his puzzled head cocked as far as it would go, and his eyes wide with alarm and confusion. When finally he managed to catch one in his mouth mid-air, he happily trotted around for a minute looking exquisitely pleased with himself… until his expression suddenly changed. Snowball headache. He spat it out in distress, then looked at me like I was a traitor. He subsequently refused to chase another snowball, or anything else, that I threw. Trust broken.
These are classic old-fashioned sugar cookies. They taste like childhood. I love them. I frosted them with a basic butter frosting, because it’s so creamy and delicious, but you could alternatively use Royal Icing – which dries hard and shiny. Pretty, and good for decorating, but I don’t love the taste. I’ll save it for the gingerbread men.
The buttery-sweet cookie dough is flavoured with both vanilla and lemon extracts. Delicious. The method is different from any cookie I have ever made – the butter is cut into the dry ingredients, like pastry. The dough is quite rough and shaggy like a pastry dough too. This is normal, do not add more water or over mix. It will all come together after resting it in the refrigerator. Do not skip this step! Simply turn the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper, use the sides of the paper to press the dough together, then pop it in the fridge for at least an hour.
Once baked and frosted, these cookies freeze most excellently! Simply spread them in a single layer on cookie sheets to freeze, then layer in a cookie tin or plastic containers and store in freezer until needed. They only need 5 minutes to thaw (and even taste good frozen…). Bake ’em now and have them on hand for the holidays!
Every time I glanced away from the photo set, Oliver’s nose would move about an inch closer to the cookies. But when I looked at him directly he froze, motionless, intensely watching me from the corner of his eye. I played this game with him until he was dangerously within tongue’s reach of the frosting. Then I said his name loudly and startled the bajeezus out of him. I’m so mean.
He got his cookies in the end – both the ones that I overbaked and most of the full pan of frosted ones (!!) that my sweetheart dropped on the floor (I’m smiling about this, but only with my mouth and not with my eyes…). Half a dozen cookies should more than make up for both the snowball headache and the mean game, right?
Adapted from the Pillsbury Best Cookies cookbook
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well. Using a fork or pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. *I use the food processor for this.
2. In a small bowl, beat eggs and sugar until light. Beat in vanilla and lemon extracts. Add to flour mixture and stir until dough forms (kneading a bit with hands if necessary to mix in dry ingredients). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. On lightly floured surface (or between two sheets of parchment paper), roll out 1/3 of dough at a time to 1/8-inch thickness (keep remaining dough refrigerated). Cut shapes with floured cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets. (If you don’t plan to frost the cookies, you can decorate them with coloured sugar or candy sprinkles before baking).
4. Bake for 6-11 minutes until edges are light golden brown (BE CAREFUL! They go from not done to overdone in a heartbeat. Check them at 6 minutes and then watch carefully). Remove immediately from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks.
1/4 cup butter
2 cups icing sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
4-5 tbsp milk or cream
Several drops of food colouring, if desired
1. Beat all ingredients together until light and fluffy. Divide frosting between several small bowls and colour each separately, if desired. Frost cookies only once they are completely cool.