Making holiday cookies — the rolled, cutout, and glazed butter-cookie variety — is everyone’s favorite December activity. Unfortunately, these cookies either look good but taste like cardboard or have buttery, rich flavor but lack visual appeal.
We wanted a simple recipe that would produce cookies sturdy enough to decorate yet tender enough to be worth eating. Superfine sugar helped to achieve a delicate texture, and using the reverse-creaming method — beating the butter into the flour-sugar mixture — prevented the formation of air pockets and produced flat cookies that were easy to decorate.
Looking to make our dough a bit more workable without adding more butter — at 16 tablespoons, we’d maxed out — we landed on the addition of a little cream cheese, which made the dough easy to roll but not too soft. Baking the butter cookies one sheet at a time ensured that they baked evenly. Do not reroll the scraps more than once; the cookies become tough.
This recipe can easily be doubled. You can decorate the cooled cookies with Easy All-Purpose Glaze (recipe follows) for a sweet, festive touch.
FOOLPROOF HOLIDAY COOKIES
Start to finish: 2 hours
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened
1 ounce cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix flour, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, and mix until dough looks crumbly and slightly wet, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add cream cheese and vanilla and beat until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds.
Transfer dough to counter; knead just until it forms cohesive mass and divide in half. Form each half into disk, wrap disks tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days. (Wrapped dough can be frozen for up to 2 weeks. Let dough thaw completely in refrigerator before rolling.)
Working with 1 disk of dough at a time, roll dough 1/8 inch thick between 2 large sheets of parchment paper. Slide dough, still between parchment, onto baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Working with one sheet of dough at a time, remove top piece of parchment and cut dough into shapes with cookie cutters. Using thin offset spatula, transfer shapes to prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart.
Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until light golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheet for 3 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Let cookies cool completely before serving.
Easy All-Purpose Glaze:
Makes about 1 cup
We decorate our Foolproof Holiday Cookies with this easy-to-make glaze, but feel free to use it, dyed or not, on any flat cookie that could use a festive flourish.
The cream cheese in the glaze gives it a slightly thicker consistency that’s good for spreading, and it cuts the sweetness of the glaze with its tang.
2 cups (8 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 ounce cream cheese, softened
Food coloring (optional)
Whisk all ingredients in bowl until smooth.
By AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN