I have a major sweet tooth. Particularly for cookies. Cookies also happen to be my favorite thing to make. I run a successful home baking business that cranks out more of these cookies than anything else on the menu. They are by far our best seller. I constantly get comments like “these are the best”, “the cookie is so soft and sweet.” It really is a perfect recipe. It is soft and light but can stand up to the weight of an icing. They won’t go stale like some cookies that you have to throw out as early as the next day. They will keep calling your name until they’ve all been eaten (if they make it past the first day). This recipe has been through years of testing. I have made hundreds of batches maybe thousands in the past decade. It is a very simple recipe to make but each ingredient plays a crucial role. I am going to guide you through step by step and explain why each combination is so important. Let’s start with the what before we get to the how.
First, we will start with a 1:1 ratio of vegetable shortening and room temperature butter. I didn’t say these were healthy cookies. I usually try to avoid shortening but in this case I have not found a substitute that gives the same results. They turn out crumbly and weak with anything other than butter and shortening. Room temperature butter is also important. If you forgot to set your butter out early or simply don’t want to wait to get started you can pop it in the microwave for 12 seconds. Not 11. Not 13. 12. If your butter is too warm it will result in a heavy, soggy cookie. Too cold and you risk having sugar granules that don’t dissolve well.
Next is a combination of powdered sugar and granulated sugar. Powdered sugar leaves your cookie with that melt in your mouth texture that everyone raves about. Powdered sugar is also an important part in creating a cookie that can handle an icing without being too dry. Granulated sugar helps create the sweetness and ever so slightly crisp edge.
Eggs and vanilla are the next important addition. 2 eggs provide stability to an otherwise light and airy cookie while vanilla gives it a warmth that is perfect for every season.
A hefty dose of all-purpose flour keeps these cookies thick and fresh! To some it may seem like a lot but for those who traditionally make cutout cookies it will seem scant. It takes a good bit of flour to provide support for the high moisture content of these cookies. If you add too much flour you will end up with a cookie that is unstable and dry.
Now this is the ingredient that you don’t typically see. Cream of tartar and baking soda. Baking powder will work in place of cream of tartar in a pinch but I still prefer the original recipe. Im going to get a little more science-y here. The acidity of cream of tartar and baking soda reacts with the liquids in cookie dough to produce carbon-dioxide gas bubbles and give the cookies a nice lift.
Salt. Anyone who tells you that the salt doesn’t really matter is wrong. There is a chemical reaction that takes place with each ingredient including salt. Just as salt draws out the delicious flavors in your food it does the same in baking. Just don’t skip it.
So, we have talked about the what and why each ingredient is so important to the final result. Equally important to the what is the how.
You will start with creaming your fats and your sugars. There is where the room temperature butter comes into play. Too warm and your mixture will be too runny. Too cold and it won’t incorporate well. You will mix your shortening, butter, powdered sugar, and sugar on high until it is fluffy, doubled in size, and turned a light yellowish white color. This process takes about 3 minutes in a stand mixer and about 20 minutes by hand. If you under cream this step your butter you will risk a gritty cookie. If you over cream your mixture your butter will start to separate and your cookies will spread too much.
When I add my eggs I crack them in a separate bowl to ensure that no shells end up in my final product. I add them one at a time mixing on low until just incorporated. Then add the vanilla.
When measuring the flour you want to take small scoops from your storage container and add it to your measuring cup and scrape off the excess until level. If you scoop straight from the container you risk over measuring from the flour packing down. Add your baking soda and cream of tartar. Then mix on low until the dough comes together and loses its tackiness. If you overmix you will end up with tough cookies and if you undermix you will have inconsistencies and a whole bunch of other bad stuff in your final cookies.
For baking I use a 2 TBSP cookie scoop and place them 2 inches apart on an uncreased cookie sheet. If I am feeling really fancy I will roll them in sugar but I seldom do this step. Then I take a glass that has a level bottom and flatten the cookies just slightly. I dip the glass in sugar between each cookie to prevent the dough from sticking.
Now, my oven has 3 racks and a convection bake setting so my cookies may cook differently than yours. Mine are generally done in 14 minutes. You may want to start with 10-12. You will know they are done when the tops have that cracked appearance of a classic sugar cookie and the edges are just set. Once I take them out of the oven I leave them on the pan until they are completely cool. Any sooner and they may have a center that is too soft.
Sugar cookie icing
These cookies are amazing on their own but you just can’t beat the icing that goes on them. Well, its not really an icing but it isn’t a frosting or a glaze either. I’m not really sure what to call it. Frosting is usually made with a high butter or fat content in comparison to the powdered sugar where as icing is traditionally only milk and powdered sugar. This recipe has both.
In this case you will completely melt the butter. It is the only way that the powdered sugar is fully dissolved leaving you with a smooth glossy
frosting, icing, glaze deliciousness. Dump all of the powdered sugar straight into the melted butter and add milk and vanilla. This part takes patience. I always have to stop myself from cranking the mixer up to high. You do not want to do that. You do not want to add any air into this recipe. It will leave you with air bubbles in your icing. Slow and steady wins the race. Scraping down the sides often and just keep mixing on low. By hand is even better it just takes forever. I would have a popeye arm if I did it by hand every time. Once you have a smooth icing you will want to pop it in the microwave for 45 seconds. This helps create the perfect consistency and helps the icing set more quickly. This is the point in the process that you can color your icing however you like. I use feel colors from americolor but you can use any kind of food coloring you prefer.
This is the part that gets everyone. Once you are ready to ice your cookies you want to take your cookie and turn it upside down. Yes, we ice the bottoms. Imagine trying to keep your icing from sliding off of the domed top of your cookie. It just doesn’t work. So we ice the bottoms. Take your cookies and dip it bottom side down into the icing lifting up at an angle. Shake off the excess and place it on a sheet of wax paper to set. I try to let my cookies set for 12 hours to really firm up and then are able to be stacked. I sometimes even employ the help of low speed fans to speed up this process.
Yield: 3 Dozen
- 1 cup room temperature butter
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 4 cups all- purpose flour
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- Cream butter, shortening, powdered sugar and sugar.
- Add eggs one at a time and mix until incorporated, scraping down sides as needed.
- add vanill.
- add flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Mix slowly just until incorporated.
- Scoop by 2 T onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes until edges are set.
For the icing
- 1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
- 2 lbs powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Opt. Food coloring
- Melt the butter.
- Add the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla.
- Mix on low speed until smooth and creamy.
- Microwave for 45 seconds.
- Opt. Add coloring here.
- Dip the bottom of your cookies in the icing lifting at an angle. Shake off excess.
- Place on wax paper to dry.
It sounds like there are a lot of steps to this recipe but once you’ve done it you realize it isn’t so bad. It is worth it too as you end up with 3 dozen beautifully iced cookies. That is plenty to keep for yourself and to share…or not. I won’t tell.