Ever since I was a little girl frosted sugar cookies have been my weakness. I can say no to a lot of treats, but not these homemade cuties! Perhaps this is because it is nearly impossible to find a delicious batch in stores! They are usually hard as a rock or seem so processed… and they take so long to make at home!
Making the dough…
Doing the dishes.
Letting it chill for hours…
Rolling it out…
Baking the cookies…
Doing the dishes.
Making the frosting…
Doing the dishes. AGAIN.
When I finally get to the “fun part” of decorating them, I’m so tired I’m ready to throw in the towel… Except there's this part of me that truly feels like they taste better when they’re pretty, so I decide to push through—but only two times a year. Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
You could use a sure-fire tip from Betsy: Make your favorite sugar cookie recipe, and place it on plastic wrap. With your hands, carefully roll into long… turkey necks (that’s her clever name)! They should be about the diameter of a quarter. Wrap the plastic wrap around each roll and place them in the fridge to chill. When you’re ready to bake, simply remove the plastic wrap and slice the roll into little round cookie bites. Bake, and frost with a little rosette. They are simply darling! And they’re so tiny you barely have to count your consumption. :)
However, if you’re simply determined to have some shape to your sweets, proceed to my “shortcut” recipe. I’ve put together some tips I’ve learned from years of baking to help you get from dough to delicious in as short of a time as possible!
These Shortcut Sugar Cookies start in the form of cookie bars. By pressing the dough into 9 x 13 pans, you eliminate the chilling and rolling steps—and it creates a beautiful, thick cookie with no crunchy edges. That’s not the only time-saving tip. I’ve got some great frosting and piping tricks too! (You could certainly decide to just keep these as bars and save lots of time, but if you really want beautifully decorated cookies, you’ll need to cut them out.)
If you’re an experienced baker, you can skim through many of my directions and look for the bolded "efficiency" sections (I’m being thorough for any newbie bakers).
(Makes enough for Two 9 x 13 pans)
5 cups of flour*
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2 cups white sugar*
2 large eggs*
3 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt (you can substitute this for sour cream)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
*I use organic when possible.
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1+ tsp. almond extract
A pinch of salt
A pinch of Cream of Tartar
Watkins Natural Food Coloring (or regular food coloring if you prefer)
Equipment: Mixer, two mixing bowls, piping bag, #21 piping tip, coupler, plastic wrap, butter knife, spatulas, cookie cutters
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Add softened butter and sugar to a bowl. Blend to combine, and then beat for three full minutes until it is light and fluffy. While you are waiting, generously grease two 9 x 13 plans with butter.
3. Scrape the bowl, add the eggs, and beat again.
4. Mix in the vanilla, almond extract, and yogurt (This helps the cookie bars stay soft).
5. Add a cup of flour. Gently mix in until just blended.
6. Add another cup of flour. Carefully add baking powder and salt on top of the flour. (Most recipes will call you to sift together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, but I have carefully skipped this step without issue for years in most recipes to avoid doing extra dishes. Just make sure you scape the mixing bowl well.)
7. Keep adding the flour, cup by cup, scraping the bowl between each addition, until you have all 5 cups mixed in.
8. Divide the dough in half. Press one half into each pan, as level as possible. Now pass the beater to your cute assistant. :)
9. Bake for 16-18 minutes and then check the cookie bars. If the edges are beginning to turn brown, take them out. If the edges are not brown at all and the center is still shiny, put them back in for two minutes.
10. While the bars are cooking, begin to make the frosting.
11. Add the softened butter, and two cups to a clean mixing bowl.
12. Cover the mixing bowl with a dishtowel—otherwise your kitchen will be covered in a sticky dust!—and mix on low.
13. Add the rest of the powdered sugar. With the towel over the mixer, slowly incorporate the powdered sugar.
14. Once combined, scrape the bowl, and beat for 3 full minutes! This is key to get the proper consistency.
15. Now to elevate the frosting, add the vanilla and almond extract and blend. If you really love almond extract, like me, you can even replace a bit of the vanilla for more.
16. Add the pinch of salt and cream of tartar. Mix in and taste. Everyone seems to like frosting a little different. The recipe I’ve shared seems to be a hit with almost everyone, but you may like it a little different. If you’re up for some experimenting to get it just right you may want to add a splash more of almond extract or a little more cream of tartar. (The cream of tartar will cut the sweetness of the frosting, but don’t use too much or there will be an aftertaste.)
17. When the bars have completely cooled, use the cookie cutters to create your cookie shapes. Some of you might call the scraps wasteful; I call them delicious! Enjoy one or two of them with your perfected frosting—purely for quality control, of course. :)
18. While the frosting is still white, you can use the butter knife to put a thin layer on the hearts. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you’ll be piping over this part. So when that cutie asks if he or she can help, go ahead and oblige.
19. You don’t have to mix as many colors as I did, but if you want to, I have a way to make it so you can use ONE piping bag and ONE tip—and the bag will barely get greasy! I came across this trick years ago, and it is so helpful! With the remaining frosting, remove about 2/3 of it from the bowl. The portion inside the mixing bowl will be your pink. This is the color I wanted the most of. Add a few drops of food coloring. I love the new Watkins natural colors! They are pricey and don’t make the most vibrant of colors, but for a pastel, dye-free option, this works great for us! Once you like the shade of pink, get out a square of plastic wrap. Spoon the frosting in a strip across the middle of it.
Then wrap the plastic wrap around the frosting, wrapping the seam around itself to secure the frosting. Twist each end tightly.
20. With a piping bag, and coupler inserted, thread one end of the twisted plastic wrap through the coupler. Pull the plastic through as much as you can, and cut it off. Now place the #21 tip on and twist the coupler ring on.
If you’re thinking, What is a coupler? Don’t worry, go here for a quick explanation of this helpful little gadget!
21. Once the tip is on and the wrapped frosting is securely in the bag, twist the top of the bag around the frosting. Grip your hand tightly over this with the twist between your thumb and pointer finger. Don’t let go or you’ll have frosting shooting out the top!
22. Begin to decorate the cookies. Use your fingers to gently push the frosting down and onto the cookie. Be gentle here! I opted to add a border around most of the cookies. My quickest method to do this is to make little stars around the edge. With your piping bag straight above your cookie, gently push out a little frosting until you see your first star appear. Stop applying pressure and pull up. Move to the spot you want the next star to appear, and repeat. Continue until you have the border completed. It takes some practice, but it really isn’t difficult! The great news is that you can practice on the scraps. You can also scrape off any frosting that doesn’t look quite right. It leaves a slight smear, but you’ll cover it with frosting again in a moment! You can also try a scalloped edge by holding the pressure longer as you create tiny curves around the cookie. There are lots of tutorials online if you need more help! The goal isn't to be perfect. Have fun with it.
Ready for one of my absolute best baking tips: Let your kids help. Really help. They learn and then whatever you do that doesn't come out quite right, people will assume your kids did. It is officially my most peaceful baking revelation to date. :)
23. When your pink frosting has done its job, undo the coupler ring. Now untwist the top of the frosting bag where you were holding. Pull the end of the plastic wrap so that the frosting comes out.
24. Dye your next color of frosting, and repeat the process of placing it in the plastic wrap, and then the piping bag to continue decorating your cookies. If you mix the colors in rainbow order, in most cases you can reuse the leftover from the previous color to make the next color. (For pink, reserve a little leftover to create the purple.) I always love getting my kids involved in the color lesson at this point.
I was able to mix all of these colors and decorate the cookies so quickly, and the cleanup was a breeze! Here is proof of how clean the piping bag can stay!
Is it still an intricate process to satisfy the sugar cookie sweet tooth? Yes, it definitely is! Still, if you use these tricks, it can be much more efficient and your kids can be involved in so much of the process!