Perfect Christmas cut-out cookies: You’ve got this

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

Dough for a pie crust isn’t the only mixture of flour, sugar and fat that gives home cooks pause during the holiday season.

Cut-out cookie dough also can be a source of baking anxiety, especially when you’re pressed for time and have tiny helpers who want to be part of the action.

If you add too much flour during the rolling process, the sugar cookies will turn out tough and dry instead of light and crisp. And if you are rushed and don’t chill it, the dough will stick to the rolling pin in a maddening mess.

But all this dough talk doesn’t have to make you go crazy. Here are some tips and tricks on how to roll out the perfect cut-outs.

Be sure to sift your flour (it will remove any lumps), and use a light hand when spooning it into the measuring cup. If you don’t have a sifter, a fine-mesh strainer also works well.

Make sure the butter is at room temperature (pliable, without being soft and greasy), or it won’t cream properly with the sugar.

Measure ingredients carefully, especially baking soda, too much of which will increase browning.

When mixing wet ingredients, be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl at least once to make sure everything is incorporated.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients slowly, on low speed, so there are no flour “explosions.”

Mix dough just until it comes together; there should still be a couple of streaks in the batter. It will be soft and crumbly.

Wrap dough in cellophane and chill in refrigerator overnight, or at least 2 hours. It should be firm to the touch.

If you’re worried about using too much flour, roll dough on a Silpat, or between two sheets of parchment. Make sure you roll evenly so cookies are the same thickness.

Dip cookie cutters in flour so the edges don’t stick. Excess dough can be re-rolled up to two times.

Place cookies far enough apart on the sheet so that they don’t bake into one another.

Cool completely on a wire rack before decorating with icing.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

1 cup powdered sugar

1 egg, beaten

11/2 teaspoons almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt

21/2 cups sifted flour

In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter. Add powdered sugar. Blend in egg, almond and vanilla extracts, salt and flour. Chill dough until firm, at least 1 hour.

Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness on well-floured surface. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cut-outs on greased cookie sheets. If decorating with colored sugar, sprinkle sugar on top of cookies.

Bake cookies at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Cookies should not brown. Frost and decorate when cool with Royal Icing (recipe follows).

Makes 40 cookies.

— Jennifer Waters, via

Royal Icing

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2 tablespoons meringue powder

5 tablespoons water

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7 to 10 minutes). Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container. This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it still will be too stiff to use for decorating.

Add more water, a very small amount at a time, and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping. (Remember, if you are having any difficulty piping, it is still too thick. Add a little more liquid and try again.)

Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie. Let it stand so the icing will set. Make sure to keep the leftover icing covered at all times when not in use so that it doesn’t harden.

Once all the cookies have been edged, transfer some of the remaining icing to a separate air-tight container. Thin out by incorporating a small amount of water at a time, until the icing drips off the spoon easily when lifted and then smooths in with that still in the bowl. If the icing is too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it again. Once the icing has reached the desired consistency, transfer it to a squeeze bottle (or a plastic bag with a hole in one corner), and flood the area surrounded by the piping on each cookie. If it does not completely spread to the edges, use a toothpick to help it along. Allow to set.

Use the remaining thicker icing for piping decoration as desired. Gel icing color is best as it does not add a significant amount of liquid. Liquid food coloring can be used as well. Add powdered sugar as needed to compensate for any thinning that occurs.