I am proudly a really crappy cook, but I can bake to beat the band. There’s something about the precision of baking I really enjoy, how it takes just the right amount of very specific ingredients to create a perfect baked treat. I have certain strengths as an improvisational writer, but in the kitchen I need a plan.
There is a lot about baking that seems intimidating until you jump in and mess it up a few times. Mistakes are a big part of the process, because each mistake teaches you some new facet of the science of baking. Personally, I think you can learn a lot more by completely botching a baking project than you can by reading a book on how to do it perfectly, but your mileage may vary. Today we’re going to talk about a project that’s relatively low on the potential botch scale – making rolled cookies and cutting them out with cookie cutters. The benefit of this project is that even an ugly cookie that looks nothing like the cutter you intended it to look like is still delicious.
There are three simple rules to making great rolled cookies.
1. Use a great dough recipe and the very freshest ingredients. Alternately, buy tubes of the pre-made stuff next to the biscuit dough at the grocery. I won’t tell.
2. Cold dough is easier to roll and cut than room temperature.
3. Powdered sugar.
I like to make my dough (if I don’t buy the tube) the night before and let it sit in the fridge until morning. I cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap to keep it from picking up any fridge flavors. Joy of Cooking has a great rolled cookie dough recipe my family has used for years, but pretty much anyone you find will be good, there isn’t really much to a sugar cookie.
When it’s time to roll out your cookies, cover your counter in a pastry cloth or board if you have one. If not, a non-nubby plain cotton dishtowel or a big sheet of wax paper can work, or you can work directly on the countertop. Start by covering your rolling surface with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. You can use flour, but I’ve found it can add a tang to the cookies. Powdered sugar, while probably worse for you, doesn’t detract from the cookie flavor. Coat your hands in powdered sugar and work the dough into a ball, then flatten with your hands into a disk. Sprinkle with the powdered sugar on both sides. Powder up your rolling pin, as well.
Keep a bowl of powdered sugar next to your work area as you begin to roll out the dough so you can add more as needed. Start in the middle of your dough disk and gently roll out to the edges with small, easy strokes. If you think of your dough disk as a clock, you’ll be rolling from the center to 12 o’clock, then center to 6 o’clock, etc. When the dough is rolled flat and about 1/8 – 1/4 inch thick, it’s ready to cut.
Prepare your cookie sheet by lining it with parchment paper. You can grease the cookie sheet, but parchment paper is one of the most awesome cookie baking tools available. It prevents sticking and it helps create the most beautiful cookie bottoms you’ve ever seen. I’m a huge fan of parchment paper.
Prepare your cookie cutters by washing them, rinsing them in cold water and drying completely. (You don’t want any dust or oil that may have gathered on your cookie cutters since the last time you used them transferring to the cookie dough.) Dip the cutters into the bowl of powdered sugar before pressing them straight down into the dough. Lift the cutter straight up, and carefully remove the cut shape from the dough with a turner and place on the cookie sheet. There’s a chance the dough is stuck inside the cutter, if this is the case, put the whole thing on the turner to transfer to the cookie sheet and gently press the dough out, preserving the shape. Before cutting another shape, make sure there isn’t any dough or sticky spots on the cutter which might mess up your next cookie. Keeping cutting cookies and placing on your cookie sheets, making sure to cut the cookies in a way that uses the most dough.
When you’ve gotten all you can out of the flat dough, gather the leftover into another ball and stick it back in the fridge for a few minutes, then roll out and cut more cookies until you you’re out of dough.
Bake according to recipe directions, cool on the cookie sheet for 3-5 minutes (remember: cookies finish cooking after they come out of the oven!) then gently transfer to a cooling rack. Allow cookies to cool completely before icing. You can sprinkle cookies pre-baking with colored sugar, as well.
Images from Flickr, b/c some dingbat forgot to make cookie dough last night. That dingbat would be me.