People frequently ask me for my favorite sugar cookie recipe, and here is the one that I use most often. I’ve also included a couple of options for royal icing; one with pasteurized egg whites and one with dried egg white powder. Using royal icing takes a little bit of trial and error, but once you get used to the different consistencies, it's the perfect "paint" for your cookie "canvas".
Makes about 24 (3-inch) cookies
This dough is not overly sweet so it pairs well with the royal icing. That said, unfrosted, these cookies taste amazing. If you are new to cookie decorating, this is the perfect dough to get you started. Not only is it easy to work with, but it is sturdy enough to stay intact when using intricately shaped cookie cutters.
2 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons (340 grams) unbleached all-purpose white flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks or 170 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until thoroughly combined. Reduce the speed to medium low and add the egg and vanilla, mixing until thoroughly combined, about 40 seconds. Reduce the speed and gradually add the flour mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and beating just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
Roll the dough out onto a floured surface, working in three batches. Preheat the oven to 350°F. To cut out cookies, place the cutter as close to the edge of the dough as possible and press firmly to cut through the dough. Lift the shape out of the dough, set it on a parchment lined or ungreased baking sheet, and push the dough out by pushing your index finger around the edge, being careful with the intricate parts. If the design is super-intricate, you may want to dip the cutter into flour first. Don’t forget to gather up the scraps and press the together into a disc. Reroll and cut out as above.
Bake the cookies until the edges begin to brown slightly, 9 to 15 minutes, depending on the size. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely before decorating.
Royal Icing with Egg Whites
Makes 2 cups
I invariably use this version of royal icing, simply because it’s the recipe I’ve long been accustomed to. Pasteurized egg whites come in pints or larger cartons in the refrigerated section of grocery stores. You can store the whole carton in the fridge, or you can freeze the egg whites in small containers if not using all at once.
5 ½ cups (562 grams) sifted confectioners’ sugar
7 tablespoons pasteurized egg whites
½ teaspoon lemon juice, optional
Combine the confectioners’ sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed until moistened and then increase speed to medium for 30 to 60 seconds. Add lemon juice, if using. With the mixer still on medium speed, beat until thick, soft peaks form, scraping down the sides of the bowl, 1 or 2 minutes.
Royal Icing with Dried Egg Whites
Makes 2 ¼ cups
Dried egg whites can be kept at room temperature, which makes them a convenient option for making royal icing.
3 tablespoons dried egg white powder
6 tablespoons warm water
4 ½ cups minus 1 tablespoon (454 grams) sifted confectioners’ sugar
Combine the egg white powder and warm water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Before placing the bowl under the paddle, use a hand whisk to break up as many large clumps of dried egg white powder as you can. (Don’t worry if all of them don’t dissolve.) Let sit for 2 minutes. Beat the mixture on medium-high speed until frothy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Raise the speed to high and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes longer.
If you want to try some other great roll-out cookie recipes (even oatmeal!) check out my book, You Can't Judge a Cookie by its Cutter