Everyone loves sugar cookies at Christmas. But sugar cookies don't always turn out right. We've compiled this list of tips and techniques to help you make the very best sugar cookies.
1. Measure ingredients accurately, especially the flour. Too much flour will make your cookies hard and dry. If you scoop the flour with the measuring cup instead of spooning sifted flour into your cup, you are likely to have 20% too much flour.
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2. Sugar cookies are made by the creaming method. This is the most important step in making sugar cookies—it incorporates the air into the dough that acts as a leavening agent. Use the paddle attachment of your electric mixer to cream the sugar, salt, and spices with the butter or shortening. Cream the ingredients together at low speed, not high. For light cookies, cream the mixture until it is light and fluffy. For a denser, moister cookie, cream only until the mixture is paste-like.
3. Add the eggs and liquid after creaming, beating these in at low speed.
4. Mix the flour into the creamed mixture only until it is combined. If you over-mix, you will develop the gluten and make a tougher cookie.
5. Choose a low protein flour, preferably pastry flour, for your sugar cookies. Avoid bread flours with their high protein content. All purpose flour is an acceptable compromise.
6. If the dough is too soft to work easily, chill it until firm. The dough should be pliable but not squishy soft. Handling of the dough with warm hands will make the dough soft.
7. Use no more flour than necessary to dust the counter. The flour will work into the dough for a drier, tougher cookie.
8. Too much re-rolling will make for tougher cookies. Not only does successive re-rolling work the dusting flour into the dough, the continued working of the dough develops the gluten.
9. When cutting shapes, make the cuts as close together as you can to minimize the amount of dough that will be re-rolled.
10. Most recipes call for the dough to be rolled to 1/8 inch in thickness. This creates a crisp cookie. For a moister, less crisp cookie, roll the dough to 1/4 inch only.
11. Remove the cookies from the counter with a thin metal spatula.
12. When garnishing cookies with sprinkles, drop the decorations from a height of eight or ten inches for a more even distribution.
13. The size of the cookies will affect bake times. Put like-sized cookies on the same sheet.
14. Do not over bake cookies. Thin cookies will bake in seven or eight minutes at 350 degrees. Thicker cookies will take ten or twelve minutes. Cookies on darker pans will bake in less time. When done, the cookies will still be pale-colored with just a tinge of brown at the edges.
15. Cool cookies on a wire rack. Do not frost them until they are completely cooled.
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