“How-To” Baking – Making Sugar Cookies

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Making sugar cookies can either be fun or make you want to pull your hair out! Follow these simple steps to create beautifully decorated sugar cookies every time.

  1. Make the dough ahead of time – Sugar cookie dough works best when it is fully chilled. Make the dough at least a day before you’re ready to roll and cut. The dough will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to a month. Here you will find a basic sugar cookie dough recipe from Williams-Sonoma®.
  2. Do not over-cream the butter – Over-creaming the butter will cause too much air to be incorporated into the cookie dough which in turn will cause them to expand and spread when baking and then collapse during cooling. Work the butter just enough so that it is incorporated with the other ingredients.
  3. Roll to the proper thickness – The perfect thickness for a sugar cookie is 1/4″. This will allow the cookies to be sturdy enough for decorating but not too thick where they taste icky. To help roll out the dough to the proper thickness you can purchase rolling pin guide rings that slip right on to your existing rolling pin. You can find them here .
  4. Chill the cookies – After the cookies are cut out, place them back into the fridge to chill. This will help to prevent spreading during the baking process.
  5. Do not overbake – Bake the cookies until they are a light sandy blonde color. Allowing the cookies to bake until “golden brown” will result in rock hard cookies that will continue to harden as they age.
  6. Use royal icing to decorate – Basic royal icing is simply a mixture of powdered sugar and egg whites with added flavorings. If the icing is too thin, add more powdered sugar. If the icing is too thick, add in more egg whites or water. To help the icing dry more quickly add in an acid such as lemon juice or cream of tartar. Here you will find a simple royal icing recipe to get your started.
  7. Ice the cookies properly – First, using a thicker batch of royal icing, outline the edge of the cookies and then allow them to dry. Then, using a thinner batch of royal icing, “flood” the cookies inside of the outline and use a small offset spatula to spread the icing around. Decorate and then allow the cookies to fully and completely dry before packaging them.

Sugar Cookie Tip – Do NOT use overly intricate cookie cutters when making sugar cookies. The cookies won’t bake evenly and the tiny pieces will burn before the rest of the cookie is fully baked. Instead, use simpler cookie cutters such as Christmas trees, snowmen, bells, etc. and then embellish and make them fancy during the decorating process. Try using sanding sugar, dragées, or even small candies to make them pretty. If you’re feeling ambitious, try some of these cool decorating techniques from the Food Network® kitchen: Sugar Cookie Decorating Techniques

Make It Homemade!

There is just nothing better than making something homemade! Aside from your dish being absolutely delicious you also have the added benefit of using the freshest ingredients and you know EXACTLY what is going into the food you eat.  If you ever take the time to read through the list of 457,000 ingredients that are used for a simple, basic store bought chocolate chip cookie you will appreciate REALLY quickly just how much better it is to make something from scratch.

Now I get it, cooking from scratch can be a big time commitment and it’s not always easy to get in the kitchen and whip up something homemade however, the more you do it the more you’ll realize that it’s not as overwhelming and complicated as you think.  I recommend starting with something super simple such as cookie dough.  There is nothing easier to pull together than a delicious, warm, home baked cookie.  Plus, cookie dough is a GREAT make-ahead recipe because it’s freezes (and keeps in the fridge) really well!  Here is where a vacuum sealer really comes in handy because it will help to extend the life of your cookie dough whether it’s in the fridge or freezer.  That being said, if you don’t have a vacuum sealer just roll up your cookie dough tightly in plastic wrap, put in a labeled Ziploc bag, and it should keep in the freezer for up to 3-4 months.  I like to write down the cooking instructions right on the Ziploc so that I am not scrambling around looking for the recipe down the road when I want to bake them off.  Spend an afternoon making a few different batches of cookie dough and you’ll always have a fresh, warm, homemade treat on hand.

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Cookie doughs are just the tip of the iceberg, you can make virtually anything from scratch and yield results that are as good, if not WAY better, than the processed store bought version.  Some of my favorite things to make are homemade vanilla extract, vanilla sugar, baking mixes, lemonade, ice cream, BBQ sauce, jams and jellies, dressings, and spice rubs.  Some of these things take just minutes to pull together using ingredients that you likely have on hand and they are better than anything you can buy in the store.

I’ve made my own vanilla extract countless times and it’s absolutely delicious.  Split a few vanilla beans, cover with either vodka or bourbon, seal and store in a dark place, and within 8-12 weeks you have homemade vanilla extract.  The longer you let it sit, the more concentrated the flavor will become.  You can see below the difference in color after just a few weeks and let me tell you, it’s absolutely incredible extract!

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Another fun thing to make from scratch, especially with the kids, is ice cream.  Making ice cream bases is so simple and once it’s chilled and ready you just pour it into the ice cream maker and let it do all of the work.  My kids and I made this delicious batch of vanilla chocolate chip ice cream and the flavor was so clean and natural.  Plus, I knew exactly what was in it so there were no weird chemicals or ingredients I couldn’t pronounce.  Just eggs, sugar, cream, vanilla, and chocolate chips!

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Love jams but you’re not quite sure how to can your own?  Try your hand at freezer jams, they are super simple and don’t require a ton of prep.  Or just make your favorite jam, pour it into a mason jar, and store it in the fridge.  There is no need to can it if you’re planning on using it right away.  I happen to LOVE cranberries and I usually end up overbuying bags of them at the holidays so instead of letting them go to waste I make a super easy cranberry jam.  Because I like to have plenty on hand, I’ll double the recipe so I can preserve and can a few batches for down the road.

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One of my most favorite things to make is lemonade, especially on a hot summer afternoon.  I promise you, once you have fresh squeezed lemonade you will absolutely NEVER want to drink the powdered or store bought version again.  This lemonade has such a light, fresh, perfectly balanced flavor that it’s easy to drink ALL day long!  This lemonade takes me no more than 15 or so minutes to pull together and it’s absolutely head and shoulders above any other lemonade I’ve ever had.  Just a few simple, fresh ingredients and you have yourself the perfect glass of cold, refreshing lemonade.

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As you can see, there really is no limit to what you can cook up in your own kitchen, it just takes a little planning and a dose of patience and before you know you can create a pantry, fridge, and freezer full of your own from scratch food!  Don’t be afraid to try your hand at different recipes, the worst thing that happens is that it doesn’t turn out great but then you learn from that, go back and tweak what you did, and try again.  Learning to cook and bake is a process but if you are willing to put in the time to learn you’ll be so pleased with the results.  There is simply nothing like homemade goodness!!!