Holiday Sugar Cookies

Holiday Sugar Cookie House | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

This is an updated post from one of my very first blogging efforts back in 2007. The recipe is wonderful, but my photos were a bit rough back then. You can see them at the end of the post, I kept them, because they are sentimental. This Holiday Sugar Cookies recipe is perfect for simple cut out cookies and for building a more intricate house. I live in a big house that makes me think of a wedding cake or confection. I have been meaning to create it out of cookies since I moved in and I finally did it. I think it will become an annual tradition and I imagine I will get more and more detailed with every try. This one was so much fun. I am lucky to have the original blueprints for the house, so it made it easier to trace the outline of the house, but I just approximated where I to, since it didn’t have to be built to stand for very long! 😉

2007 Post: My aunt Kristin is a great collector of recipes. She sends me packages of them, often! The recipes come from magazines, books, cooking shows, gourmet grocery stores and various people she meets. They are far too numerous to try all of them, but I use them as a constant source of inspiration. This past week, just in time for Christmas she sent me a sugar cookie recipe by Dorie Greenspan she had clipped from Bon Appetit and a set of snow flake cookie cutters. I am always searching for the perfect sugar cookie. I’m not sure yet if this is THE ONE, but it is really great. The flavor is not too sweet, slightly lemony (because I added the lemon zest) and the texture is crisp but not at all tough.

I decorated the cookies and house with royal Icing made with lemon juice, which is tasty, quite stunning and strong enough to hold up as the glue for the house. I’ll admit that I love the fussy work of intricate decorations on sugar cookies. It is the closest I will come to ever using my BFA from college. If you don’t share my enthusiasm for precision piping then just sprinkle them with colored sugar like my boys did and they are delicious and festive!

Obviously this recipe and technique are great for Valentines Day, Easter and any other holiday or special occasion when you celebrate with sweets! Which means every day…

Holiday Sugar Cookie House | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Holiday Sugar Cookies

Dorie Greenspan’s Sugar Cookies (Bon Appetit December 2007)

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup (115g) sugar

1 large egg

1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (Homemade)

1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)

2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder (not original to Dorie’s recipe, but I like the bit of lift it gives the cookies)

Cream together the butter, sugar and salt in a mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, beat until well blended, about 1 minute, then add vanilla and lemon. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add flour, salt and baking powder, mix on a low speed until just combined. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half. Form each half into a flattened disk and wrap in plastic, chill for at least 4 hours. (I only chilled mine for 2 hours and it seemed to roll out and bake beautifully) It can be made up to 3 days ahead or freeze for later.

Preheat oven to 325°F. (Dorie has you bake at 350°F, but since I was baking really large cookies, I wanted to lower the heat so they would bake without taking on too much color.) Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Working with one disk at a time, Dorie has you roll out dough between two sheets of wax paper to 1/8″ thin. (I didn’t have any so I rolled mine out on a lightly floured counter and it worked just great.)

Using decorative cookie cutters, cut out cookies and transfer to a cookie sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Gather any scraps, roll them out until all the dough is used. If not using icing then decorated with sprinkles before baking.

Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are firm and golden around the edges, about 10 minutes for smaller cookies and up to 14 minutes for larger ones. Cook completely on rack.

See my instagram video for baking, decorating and assembling tips.

Holiday Sugar Cookie House | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Decorate with Royal icing, sprinkles or other decorations. Let stand until icing sets.

Royal Icing:

3 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2 large egg whites

1 teaspoon lemon juice, strained

Using electric mixer, beat 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar, egg whites and lemon juice until thick and shiny, adding more powdered sugar by the tablespoon if it is too thin to spread, about 3 minutes. Cover with wet towel until ready to use.

Fill a parchment pastry bag with about 3 tablespoons of the royal icing. The consistency should be soft enough to pipe but firm enough to hold its shape, like soft mashed potatoes. Cut a very small hole at the tip of the bag and draw an outline around the cookie. If you are going to be flooding the center of the cookie with icing than double up the outline.

You can also separate the icing into little bowls and add coloring. Be sure to keep the icing covered at all times because it is meant to dry out and will end up with a crust if exposed to air.

Here are some tips for making cookies that are a little less over-the-top, but equally as fun and tasty:

docorating christmas cookies

Once all of your cookies have been outlined then you will want to thin out a portion of your icing in order to flood the center. It should be the consistency of molasses. Fill another parchment pastry bag about 1/4 of the way full. Carefully flood the area between your outline. Go slowly so as not to go over the lines you’ve drawn.

docorating christmas cookies

docorating christmas cookies

docorating christmas cookies

Once the you’ve flooded the center of the cookie with the icing it will be shiny and wet, you can put decorations on the icing and they will stick. You can also let the icing dry and it will lose its shine but you can then pipe more decor over the icing. (The cookies below: the cookie in the foreground is wet and the one in the back is dry)

docorating christmas cookies

Here are the cookies as I was working on them.

Holiday Sugar Cookies | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

Holiday Sugar Cookies | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François

These small photos are from the original post in 2007, they aren’t very good, but they represent a sweet memory, so I am keeping them in the updated post.

Here is the house that inspired the cookie version:

Holiday Sugar Cookie House | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François