Growing up, my family’s holiday traditions were somewhat unconventional compared to those of my peers. I never believed in Santa Claus. Ever. Our holidays were focused on Jesus’ birth as well as spending time together as a family. Also, I didn’t open presents on Christmas morning. Can we still call it Christmas without Santa and morning presents? I think so. We traveled to be with my grandparents on Christmas so our family celebrated a couple days early. Still, our Christmas was full of excitement and wrapped in our own set of traditions that I looked forward to each year.
Like most families, the dinner was an important part of our celebration. Our table would be covered in a tablecloth and set with china and cloth napkins. The lights would be dim and candles lit. This was the kick off to our special Christmas night, though it was December 23 instead of the 25. Mom would make clam chowder every year and every year she would say how it doesn’t taste as good as Mo’s. Mo’s is a chowder place in Portland, Oregon that my parents grew to love. The holidays were the only time I remember eating clam chowder, or any seafood for that matter. I always enjoyed it and the chewy canned clams. After dinner there would be sugar cookies followed by a trip around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights.
Mom makes soft sugar cookies every year. Whenever I eat a sugar cookie I expect it to taste like this one. Pillow-y and tender and a little cake like. Yet none every do. Every year my sisters make these with their families and I decided this year that I wanted to as well. As adults we get to make our own choices about what traditions to keep from our past as well as what to add for the present. Making soft sugar cookies is one that I will be keeping around. I hear Santa loves them.
Soft Cut Out Sugar Cookies
Makes about 24 cookies
This recipe is slightly adapted from Food52.com and is slightly different than mom’s original one. More sugar and flour with the addition of baking powder and almond extract. I also upped the vanilla and salt. The dough is soft but not as sticky.
Some people love decorating cookies and others fizzle out by the time the cookies are out of the oven (me!!) I started using this quick decorating technique and thought you might like it too. Similarly to scones, before putting the cookies in the oven, brush lightly with heavy cream. Next, go wild with the sprinkles (I liked this) Wilton 710-1260 Gold Pearlized Sprinkles Mix though not the little the balls – they melt in the oven. The gold sugar is divine. Top with Wilton White Sparkling Sugar, Net Wt. 8 oz. . Sweetened shredded coconut is another fun option. The coconut gets nice and toasty in the oven and goes really well with the slight almond flavor of the cookie. Of course, these are great with frosting as well.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
For topping: 2 tablespoons heavy cream, sprinkles, sparkling sugar and sweetened shredded coconut
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy – about 3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape bowl and add the egg. Mix on low until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Now add the sour cream, vanilla extract and almond extract. Mix on low to combine for another 30 seconds or so. Scrape the bowl with a spatula, making sure to get to the bottom of the bowl. Spoon flour mixture over the dough and mix on low to incorporate. Stop the machine when most of the flour is mixed in. Scrape the bowl again and then cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or over night.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cover baking sheets with parchment and set aside. On a moderately floured surface, work in small batches to roll out the dough to 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick. Don’t over work the dough – a couple pats and a couple rolls will do it. Sprinkle with flour as needed. Cut out shapes and place on parchment paper. Once the sheet is filled, use a pastry brush to brush heavy cream on the cookies. Sprinkle liberally with sprinkles and sparkling sugar or shredded coconut. I love that the sprinkles are contained in the baking sheet and not rolling all over my table and floor! Bake on the middle rack for 10-12 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. You want a little color around the edges and the middle to be nice and puffed before taking out of the oven. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
These cookies taste best the day they are made but I doubt there will be much complaint a day later. Store in air tight container.
Tip: Not all sprinkles are heat proof so some might melt more than others. I really loved the gold and yellow tones. Colored sugar would work great as well. These cookies tend to spread. I like using the circle cutter or other non-intricate shapes. If you want a sharper shape, let the cookie cool slightly after baking and then use the cookie cutter to cut out the shape again. This will leave you with cleaner edges if desired.