Easier Cutout Cookies

I know a lot of people who don't like going to the bother of making cutout cookies. I agree that it's shocking that it can take an afternoon to make the cookies, and only minutes to devour them, but to me it doesn't seem like Christmas without a batch of cut-outs (this post will tell you why).

This is a good recipe for people who have trouble with cutouts. The dough is easy to work with and doesn't require refrigeration before rolling (although it works well if it has been refrigerated, too). The icing is also easy to work with because it is neither too thick nor too runny. And the two of them together are delicious! The drop of almond extract in the icing gives it a nice flavor but it's subtle enough that you can't tell it's almond (be sure to warn people with nut allergies).

Cutout cookies will never be as easy as, say, a bar cookie, but here are a few tips to make them less frustrating:
1. Be gentle when you're rolling the dough. Work from the middle toward the outside.
2. Don't roll the dough too thin, or the cookies will be difficult to transfer to the cookie sheet.
3. When you roll the dough out, make sure there is flour on your work surface, as well as on top of the dough (so the dough doesn't stick to your rolling pin).
4. When you're done cutting out the cookies from the dough, brush off the extra flour from the top and bottom of the dough. The more flour that gets into the dough, the less good it will taste. Only re-roll a few times -- once the dough looks like it has cracks in it when you roll it out, that's the point at which the dough has taken on too much flour and it's time to discard it.
5. The decorating pastes from Williams Sonoma (right) are the best for coloring frostings -- and I've tried the liquids from the grocery stores and the pastes from craft stores. The colors are vivid. They are a little pricey but one package will last for ages.

Easier Frosted Cutout Cookies
Adapted from a Penzey's recipe
These cookies are easy (as cutout cookies go) because the dough is easy to work with, and because you don't have to chill the dough before rolling.

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In an electric butter, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and the vanilla, and mix until well blended. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder, then gradually add to the butter mixture and blend well.

Form the dough into a smooth ball. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch (I like mine a little on the thicker side).

Cut out with cookie cutters and place on nonstick or lightly greased cookie sheets (I use the insides of the butter wrappers). Place on cookie sheets an inch or so apart -- they will spread a bit. Cookies should be of equal size to ensure even baking.

Bake for 6 minutes or so, until you see a little browning just on the corners of the cookies (the whole cookie should not brown). Cool on cookie sheets for at least five minutes, then remove from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks or waxed paper. Decorate when cool.

Vanilla Cookie Frosting (or flavor of your choice)
This makes lots of frosting so that you can make various colors. The almond extract gives the frosting a nice flavor that doesn't have an overt almond flavor, but you can substitute other flavorings such as lemon.

6 cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
6 Tablespoons milk
1 Tablespoon imitation vanilla extract (this will keep the frosting white in color)
Scant teaspoon almond extract
Food coloring, if desired

Mix together all ingredients until smooth.

I posted twice today because I wanted to make sure I squeaked in under the deadline of Food Blogga's Christmas Cookie roundup! She gets so many contributions to the event, that she has to do a couple of posts to contain them all. Here is Part 2 of 2008!


Jersey Girl Cooks said...

I just finished making cut outs with the kiddos. What a mess!I just finished cleaning the kitchen. You are right about it not being a holiday without them. I might try this frosting as they have not been iced yet.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Thanks for the tips, Tracy. I am one of those people who think cut-outs can be tricky.

The Cookbook Junkie said...

I'll give you my #1 tip for rolling out cut-out cookies:

Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper.

I never even need to sprinkle the parchment with flour. If the dough is soft, I stick the dough (rolled between the parchment) in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up. Then I just peel off the top piece of parchment and cut out the cookies right on the other piece of parchment which I put right on the baking sheet.

The rolling pin never touches the dough so I save on clean-up too.

I never used to like making cut-out cookies at all until I learned that trick.