As I’ve mentioned before, I have nostalgic feelings about sugar cookies. Most of my childhood memories involve the flat, crisp-chewy style with thin, glaze-like icing. I could never resist these in a bakery window, especially when they came in unusual shapes with elaborate decoration, like the faces of Sesame Street characters (bonus points for garish blue or green that stained my tongue); my particular favorite was the “cookie on a stick” I would always choose as my treat for behaving myself when my mom dragged out shopping at the mall. But later in life, mostly thanks to office holiday celebrations, I fell hard for the polar-opposite sugar cookie model, the fluffy, impossibly soft, buttercream-frosted ones found in grocery store bakery sections. Why do I find them so irresistible? It’s that pillowy cakelike texture, even when it verges on being too floury (and no doubt artificial-preservative-laden). I always felt a little gross after finishing one, but the first bite was sheer heaven.
So when a recipe popped up at Annie’s Eats that promised to replicate the super-soft sugar-cookie experience, I had to give it a try. These cookies really do feed that craving, satisfyingly thick and tender but without the dense, doughy, chalky quality the storebought ones can have. And the flavor is infinitely better, buttery and intensely vanilla-spiked.
My one stumble has been with the frosting, which has turned out smooth and glaze-like instead of thick and creamy both times I’ve made these. The first time (pink, for Valentine’s Day 2013; yes, I’ve been holding out on you that long) the finished cookies were so homely (er, “rustic”) that I didn’t even want to photograph them, but as soon as I realized how addictively delicious they are, I knew I’d have to try again so I could post them. I figured I had put too much milk in the frosting and tried to dial it back on the second attempt, but got the same result (this time in robin’s-egg blue, in honor of spring). The frosting is delicious and I have no desire to change it, but you’ll see that mine didn’t resemble Annie’s original picture or the store version.
It’s strange to say because I always consider myself a chocolate-chip fan, but these might be some of my favorite cookies ever. It’s kind of a problem how good they are. If you’re a soft sugar-cookie fan, try this recipe.
4½ cups all-purpose flour
4½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoons salt
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
7-8 tablespoons milk
Food coloring (optional)
- To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and whisk together to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.
- When you are ready to bake the cookies, scoop a scant quarter-cup of dough and roll into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set. (Do not overbake! The edges should be no more than very lightly browned, if at all.) Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- To frost the cookies, place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired. Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies. (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.) Top with sprinkles if desired.
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: Great. I store mine in an airtight container in the freezer and they keep for weeks.