This is the Christmas cookie of my childhood. Somewhere in my mom's kitchen is a mimeographed (if you don't what this is, ask a retired teacher) copy of this recipe. It was given to her at a Tupperware party sometime in the 70s and has been baked by either her or me every year since. These cookies have a distinctive aroma and taste that I assume comes from the cream of tartar, an unusual ingredient for cookies, but readily available in most supermarkets. These cookies are buttery and sweet, and the dough, while a bit stiff when cold, rolls and cuts beautifully, without a lot of spread in the oven.
You have to sacrifice your kitchen when you decorate these cookies, but to minimize the damage, be organized before inviting the kids in the room. Wax paper on the counters (cheaper than parchment), lots of bowls of icing and shakers of sprinkles. Let the cookies dry for about an hour before putting them in containers and be sure to layer the cookies with wax paper so they stay perfect.
Christmas Cut-Out Cookies
3 cups confectioner's sugar
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
5 cups flour
2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1. In a mixer, cream sugar and butter, add eggs and flavorings. Mix in dry ingredients until dough forms. Pack in an airtight container and refrigerate two hours or overnight. I use a rectangular container and "slice" dough when I'm ready to bake.
2. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375. Cut off a 2-cup portion of dough and roll out on floured countertop. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes and place on cookie sheets lined with either a Silpat or parchment paper. Bake each sheet of cookies at 375 for 7 minutes. They will be just brown and delicious. Let cool on wire racks until ready to decorate.
Tips for Success
1. Remember to dip cookie cutters in flour to prevent dough from sticking.
2. Re-roll scraps with scraps, not fresh dough.
3. To quickly cool a baking sheet in order to fill it up with the next batch, remove liner and run pan under cold water. Dry, replace liner, and place cookies on it.
This is one of those times when you don't really need a recipe: Get a bowl, carefully pour a pound of confectioner's sugar in it. Using a whisk, stir in milk a tablespoon or two at a time until mixture reaches the desired spreadability. I use food coloring to tint small bowls of the icing. Gels will give purer, more intense color. Use a toothpick to swirl little globs of the coloring gel (look for Wilton brand) into the bowls of icing.
Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.