Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Perfect Sugar Cookie...and my new favorite way to decorate them!

(Scroll down for recipe)

My kids love to bake cookies. And they LOVE to decorate them.

I love to bake cookies. And I DO NOT LOVE my kids to decorate them.

See, I have this little problem. It's called I WANT MY COOKIES TO LOOK GOOD. I hope for my cookies to look like they came from a professional bakery, while my children prefer them to resemble multi-colored blobs with tiny bites missing. I've tried to explain to them that snowflakes are not purple and that the Santa cookie will not be able to see anything with an entire bottle of nonpareils dumped on his face, but they don't seem to care.

I've tried to let it go because they have so much fun flinging icing all over the kitchen, but every time I watch them mix all the different colored sprinkles together in one bowl (which is always their go-to strategy), a small piece of me dies inside. This is something I'm working through.

So this past Easter I tried a new approach.

And I may never buy sprinkles again.

We had some family over for Easter. Jack and I made and iced the cookies ahead of time, so before lunch, I set out the cookies with a collection of FoodWriter edible color markers (purchased at Michael's). These markers are phenomenal. They are like if regular markers and a magical unicorn had a baby, and that baby could write on food. Note to self: come up with better analogy before posting

The packaging claimed they could also write on toast or cheese. At first I was like, "Why would you want to write on cheese?" And then I thought, "Why WOULDN'T you want to write on cheese!!" FOOD and ART. My TWO FAVORITE THINGS!

 While lunch finished cooking, the kids busied themselves with decorating the cookies. There was no mess and no soul-crushing sprinkle mixing, although Henry did manage to bite off a pair of bunny ears.

They were SO excited to be helping with the meal and they proudly showed off their masterpieces to anyone who wandered through the kitchen.

It kind of warmed my cold, perfectionist heart.

Ahh, a bunny that is the color of an actual bunny. This girl gets me.
How stinkin' adorable are these cookies??
My only note: Make sure the icing is completely hardened before coloring on the cookies to avoid "bleeding"
(scroll down for recipe)

 After lunch the kids got to eat their creations.

And they were delicious!

Ok, so maybe we'll give sprinkles another go after all.


Here is the sugar cookie recipe I use. It's my mom's recipe that she has tweaked over the years and it really is perfect.

Start with 2 sticks SOFTENED butter. Do not try to microwave the butter, just let it sit out at room temperature for an hour or so.
Add the rest of the "wet" ingredients: sugar, egg, vanilla, orange juice. Blend together.
Note: The assistance of a superhero is not required.

Now add the flour and a pinch of salt.

Blend again and you're done!

I like to wrap my dough in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

When you're ready to bake, cut off a slice of dough and roll out on a floured surface.
Remember: the dough should be COLD and rolled THICK! After you cut out the first round of cookies, you can re-roll your slice of dough one or two more times, but the more you manipulate the dough, the harder it is to work with and the more finicky it becomes in the oven.

I was able to get 16 cookies out of this batch of dough.

Bake your cookies at 400 degrees for only 5 to 6 minutes. AS SOON as they start to turn brown on the edges, TAKE THEM OUT!

Now for the icing! Mix all ingredients together (powdered sugar, milk, lemon juice, light corn syrup) until the icing is the consistency of shampoo. The lemon juice cuts through the sweetness and gives the icing a delicious hint of tart. If you prefer not to use lemon juice, you can substitute extra milk instead.

The icing spreads beautifully on the cookie.
Also, do you know how hard it is to take a picture of yourself spreading icing on a cookie??
I had to get creative with this one.
Confession: Sometimes I get lazy and just dunk the whole cookie in the bowl of icing. I find it a lot easier to spread that way. 
Now you are ready to decorate!! (sprinkles optional, of course)

Perfect Sugar Cookies
I can usually make 15-20 cookies per batch of dough, however, it varies depending on the size of the cutter.

Blend Together:
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp orange juice

2 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
pinch of salt

Blend wet and dry ingredients together.

I like to roll the dough into a ball and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with flour. Sprinkle top of dough with flour and roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick (I use the width of my pinky as a guide, but if you have giant pinkies, that might not work for you. When it doubt, err on the side of thickness!) You may need to flip the dough around to roll it out. While rolling, check underneath the dough frequently to make sure it is not sticking (if it is, sprinkle with more flour). Cut into desired shape and place on a COOL baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until cookies are set and barely brown on edges, about 5 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE!

NOTE: In order for the cookies to keep their shape, the dough needs to be COLD. If you overwork the dough it will become too soft and the cookies will not hold their shape. You can even place your cut-out cookies on a plate or cookie sheet and pop the whole thing in the freezer for a few minutes to guarantee a perfect shape after baking!

Perfect Icing

Mix Together:
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp light corn syrup

The icing should be the same consistency as shampoo: thick, but still a little runny. If the icing is too thick, you can add more milk. If it is too runny, add a little more powdered sugar.

Add food coloring to tint the icing! Let cookies sit overnight to let the icing harden. 

A few other ways I've used this recipe:
Martha Stewart's Fireworks Cookies
Icing and sprinkles for a "MOPS" event
Christmas cookies, of course!


  1. Oh my goodness did you do the art on those last few cookies you shared? Amazing. And a few mental notes I made while reading this: 1) The adorable outfits of your boys. Love 2) The analogy was perfect. I like unicorns haha 3) those marker things are amazing. I'm like you, I hate a mess. Which is why I don't let my kids bake with me often. Or really why I don't bake often 4) Props on this post. These kinds of posts are so hard. I'm discovering that fact more and more with this blogging for other people to see thing. The how tos are a lot of work. So good job on this post. I will be pinning it :)

    1. Yes, I did all the cookies! I am trying to invite my kids in the kitchen more often. I just have to stop saying, "Here, let me do that for you!" and let them have a little freedom. My poor kitchen floors though, haha.

  2. tried your sugar cookie recipe the other day and it was phenominal!! thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Those firework cookies are AMAZING!

    I'm excited to try your recipe today. I have new dinosaur cookie cutters and icing markers. We are in full party prep mode here. ;-)

  4. found this on pinterest. love these! such a good idea to decorate this way!