Little Hands Sugar Cookies & Cards

Little Hands Sugar Cookies via Sweetapolita

Were you starting to wonder if I’ve been baking lately? Since my last few two posts were a little more about me, myself and I, and not exactly recipe-filled, you might be wondering what the heck I’ve been up to in this kitchen of mine. I’m here, I promise. The holiday season has definitely sprung, and I’m a little stressed–I won’t lie. It’s all that good, you know, hustle and bustle holiday-type stress, but sometimes (and by “sometimes” you know I mean “always”) I take on just a little too much. Do you ever do that? Always? So because of that little tendency of mine, I decided to choose a few special baking projects this year, rather than crank out endless varieties, although, technically, there is still time for that . . . kidding. Sort of. For the last two years, I’ve had this “hand cookie”  idea bookmarked in the 2009 Martha Stewart Holiday magazine, and this year I knew I couldn’t resist making them.

My girls, ages 2 and 4, have embraced their creative sides, and so I thought this would be a great way to tie that into the holidays. When Reese wakes up, she literally runs for the crayons, markers and paper and immediately starts to create, and as soon as she’s aware of the holiday season, all she wants to do is make Christmas Cards. For everyone, literally. The mailman, the cat, every neighbour for miles and more. Don’t be surprised if you get one too — this girl can seriously create, and fast. She reminds me so much of the me when I was a little girl (memories of my tireless childhood rug-hooking fascination come to mind), and I love that she’s so enthusiastic. Neve does too, but because she’s just 2, she enjoys it for a few moments and then moves onto something else.

That’s actually why this project worked so well, because there was a little bit of baking, a bit of colouring and more. To create the template for their hands, I traced their hands onto cardstock and cut them out–so simple, yet the girls thought this was so fun. For some reason, I had it in my head that this would be a really crazy super time-consuming project, but, actually, with such a simple decorating approach, it was probably the quickest sugar cookie project I’ve ever done. Perfect!

Sweetapolita

We did these over the course of a few days (which seems to be the best way to approach this type of thing with 2 small kids, I’m finding), and the day the photos took place, Reese was at school, but Neve was ready to ham it up, as always. Since we just put up Christmas Tree, started listening to holiday music and were holiday baking and crafting, we were suddenly immersed in holiday-ness. Funny how that can give us all the boost we need sometimes–young or old. It’s been kind of grey around here for the past few weeks, in typical Canadian winter fashion, I suppose, but, this cookie project lifted us all quite a bit. That and decorating (and redecorating) the tree. The girls have rearranged it so many times, but I think they’ve got it just “so” now.

Sweetapolita

After around the 1,330, 330th time “telling” the girls to “stop touching the balls (ahem)!” I lauged out loud and then let it go. Crash! Bang! Crash! And . . . it’s offically Christmas. This is all new to Neve, since last year she was only 1 and likely has no recollection of Christmas, so I just don’t have the heart to keep her away from the tree. It just wouldn’t be Christmas around here without a little bit of heartwarming chaos (with a hint of just plain chaos, of course).

Little Hands Sugar Cookies via Sweetapolita

I love that the hands don’t expand when baked (which is why it’s so important to follow the prebaking chilling steps), since puffed up, oversized baby hand cookies may be a little weird. I compared the template to the baked cookie, and it was almost exact. Yay! We decided that we’d go ahead and package up each cookie, complete with name cards and handmade Christmas greetings and that we’ll give them to family, Reese’s teacher, etc. I gave the girls a stack of 6″ squares of white cardstock and a box of markers and told them to create-away. I also gave them some 6″ strips of cardstock for their names, which I left Reese in charge of writing both (soon enough Neve will be able to write her own, I’m sure!).

Sentiment aside, this is my favourite sugar cookie recipe (as you probably remember in this previous post), as they are so scrumptious and traditional. Because they are so crisp, buttery and classic, I personally love eating them this way, with no icing. Next time I make these, or any other unfrosted variation, I will likely add some vanilla bean to add to the already lovely and old-fashioned taste, but if you use a good quality pure vanilla extract, that alone does give it a beautiful flavour. It’s just never a bad idea to add vanilla bean, right?

Little Hands Sugar Cookies via Sweetapolita

I’ll be back soon to share some holiday cakes that I’m really excited about making, and more. Until then, Happy Holiday Baking!

Little Hands Sugar Cookies

Yield: Apprx 30 medium-small cookies, depending on shapes/size

Ingredients

  • 6 cups (750 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 2 cups (454 g) unsalted butter, softened for about 20 minutes at room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) pure lemon extract

Instructions

  1. In large bowl, sift together flour and salt. Set aside.
  2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs.
  3. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla and lemon extract and blend.
  4. Remove 1/2 of dough from bowl, make a ball, and place on a large piece of plastic wrap on counter.Wrap the sides of wrap over the ball, then press down with the palm of your hand and make a disc about 2" thick. Finish wrapping the disc with the plastic wrap. Repeat with 2nd half of dough. Chill both discs of dough for about 45 minutes.
  5. Remove one disc and remove plastic wrap. Place on top of a large piece of parchment paper (I use a silicone rolling mat underneath to ensure it doesn't slip while rolling, but you can even dampen counter so the parchment sticks a bit.), then place two 1/4" wooden dowels on either side of your dough, then another sheet of parchment paper.
  6. Roll dough (this will require a bit of elbow grease for the first few minutes until it softens up a bit) so it's flush with dowels--they will ensure that your dough is even thickness.
  7. Preheat your oven to 350° F. Slide your parchment paper and dough onto a board, then place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
  8. Remove from fridge, and cut your shapes using the cutters of your choice, placing them on a baker's half sheet lined with a silicone baking mat (or parchment), with 2" clearance around each one and the edge of sheet. Place sheet with cookies into freezer for 15 minutes before baking. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.
  9. Cool sheets on wire racks for 10 minutes, then gently remove cookies and place on wire racks to finish cooling.

Notes

*If you follow the pre-baking chilling steps, you will find that your baked cookies end up the same size as your hand template, with no expansion (that could be kind of weird).

**May be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. They also freeze well.

***Package as desired.

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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

1. For packaging, I used a 6″ wide x 9″ crystal clear bag and cut a 6″ square piece of patterned scrapbooking paper and 6″ square piece of wax paper (regular wax paper) overlay to place on top. I highly recommend using the wax paper overlay, otherwise the cookie will leave buttery marks on your pretty paper.

2. I cut additional 6″ squares of white cardstock so the girls could write Christmas Card messages and then I slid them into the bag, facing out (the back of the bag) then cut small white strips for their names to slide into the front of the bag. In our case, with two little girls I wanted the recipients to be able to easily identify each girl’s cookie, but if you’re using only one “little hand,” you could skip this step.

3. To seal bag, I folded the excess bag over the front and then, using a single hole punch, created 2 holes a few inches apart (see photo), then tied with ribbon (I used a Celadon colour).

Good luck & enjoy!

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Steps to Making the Perfect Sugar Cookie (and Cookie Pop)

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

Modest title, right? Okay, well, I am proud of my sugar cookies, so don’t mind me. I’ve been baking up batches like crazy these days, so I feel as though I have it down to a science. Funny, I used to make them primarily for special occasions, but they have become such a nice treat for pretty much anytime at all, simply because they taste so good. Sure, I decorate the heck out of them typically, but the cookies themselves are so good that I often eat them simple and plain. Crisp, sugary, and vanilla-y, which is just what a sugar cookie should be. The dough is the perfect consistency for rolling and cutting; and the batch is a really workable size, in my opinion. I’ve had a bunch of readers ask for my sugar cookie recipe, and albeit simple, to me it really is perfect. So, I thought now would be a good time to share it, and my steps to making them, with you, so that we can keep going with of plenty of decorated versions, and that we’re all on the same sugar-cookie-basics page. I have to admit that I get told often that these cookies taste better than most, including the ones at Starbucks :)

I started adding pure lemon extract to the batter in addition to the vanilla. This came to me after becoming hooked on the lemony-vanilla flavour in some Italian animal crackers I bought for the girls that tasted just like McDonaldland Cookies (Italians worldwide are cringing as we speak). I’ve added my own steps for the chilling/rolling/cutting process in the method below with what works for me. It may seem like a lot of work, but I promise that it’s worth it. I learned, over the years, that if the cookies are baked with anything less than perfectly chilled dough, that they expand and don’t keep their clean intended shapes. So frustrating, but avoidable.

So here are some photos to help us along, and since I was making cookie pops this past weekend, I thought I would add that bit into this tutorial, just in case you felt inspired to make cookie pops; they too can be frustrating if the correct steps aren’t taken. I purposely left the decorating portion out of this post, so that we can focus on the fundamentals of baking the cookies themselves. I want to say, though, that making sugar cookies is about personal preference, just as any technique is, and this is my way, but not necessarily the only way.

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

I’ve included explicit instructions for the sugar cookie recipe/chilling/rolling/baking below, but to give you a visual of the cookie pop process as well, I’ve included some extra photos. Here is the cookie dough after well-chilled and rolled using 2 dowels for even thickness and sandwiched between 2 pieces of parchment. This yields a perfectly even sheet of dough for cutting. I always slide this entire thing, minus the dowels, onto a large cutting board and place into refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

I then take the chilled sheet of dough out of the fridge and begin cutting my shapes. For cookie pops, I tend to cut one at a time, insert the cookie stick, place on baking sheet, and then move on to cutting the next cookie. On a side-note, let me say that collecting cookie cutters is slightly addictive!

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

So when making cookie pops, I take my cut shape, make sure it’s near the edge of my board, gently place my left hand on top of the cookie shape, and using my right (dominant) hand, I slowly insert the end of the cookie stick (found at baking supply shops) into the bottom of the cookie, using a slow, turning motion. This really helps minimize breakage of the dough when inserted . . .

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

But, as we all know, hearts can be broken, so after inserting the stick, although the top of the cookie looks perfect, when I gently (and I mean so, so gently) turn the cookie over with a sharp spatula, I see that the bottom has broken a bit. But, that’s okay, we can fix that . . .

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

I take little wee bits of the cookie dough scraps and patch it up with my fingers (now is a good time to use some nice clean food prep sanitary gloves). See, all better. Now oh-so-carefully pinch the bottom of the cookie, where the stick meets it, and ensure it’s secure. I then place each cookie pop onto the cookie sheet using a cookie spatula.

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

Here they are ready to go into the oven, using a baker’s mat. (I use Silpat Mats and clean Nordic Ware aluminum bakers half sheets, and I reserve the half sheets for cookie baking only, to keep them pristine.)

Perfect Sugar Cookie via Sweetapolita

And baked! I find the key is letting them get a golden edge, but also a light golden hue–otherwise, I find they aren’t crispy on the outside. They look so ready for some serious cookie decorating.

The Perfect Sugar Cookie (and Cookie Pop)

Yield: Apprx 30 medium cookies, depending on shapes/size

Buttery, crisp and classic vanilla, these sugar cookies are ideal for decorating, snacking, tea-time or gifting. If the steps are followed, they will keep their shapes well and won't expand while baking.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups (750 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 2 cups (454 g)(4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened for about 20 minutes at room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) pure lemon extract

Instructions

  1. In large bowl, sift together flour and salt. Set aside.
  2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs.
  3. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla and lemon extract and blend.
  4. Remove 1/2 of dough from bowl, make a ball, and place on a large piece of plastic wrap on counter.Wrap the sides of wrap over the ball, then press down with the palm of your hand and make a disc about 2" thick. Finish wrapping the disc with the plastic wrap. Repeat with 2nd half of dough. Chill both discs of dough for about 45 minutes.
  5. Remove one disc and remove plastic wrap. Place on top of a large piece of parchment paper (I use a silicone rolling mat underneath to ensure it doesn't slip while rolling, but you can even dampen counter so the parchment sticks a bit.), then place two 1/4" wooden dowels on either side of your dough, then another sheet of parchment paper.
  6. Roll dough (this will require a bit of elbow grease for the first few minutes until it softens up a bit) so it's flush with dowels--they will ensure that your dough is even thickness.
  7. Preheat your oven to 325° F. Slide your parchment paper and dough onto a board, then place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
  8. Remove from fridge, and cut your shapes using the cutters of your choice, placing them on a baker's half sheet lined with a silicone baking mat (or parchment), with 2" clearance around each one and the edge of sheet. Place sheet with cookies into freezer for 15 minutes before baking. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.
  9. Cool sheets on wire racks for 10 minutes, then gently remove cookies and place on wire racks to finish cooling.

Notes

*May be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. They also freeze well.

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For other Sweetapolita cookie decorating ideas, here are a few from popular past posts that you may like Milk & Cookie Cookies, Artist Palette & Paintbrush Cookies, or Neapolitan Milk & Chocolate Cookies.

I find I’m drawn to using fondant for my cookie decorating–not always, but often. If you’d like to read some seriously great cookie decorating tutorials, ideas, tips, and more, with a focus on royal icing designs, here are some of my fabulous cookie-goddess friends’ blogs that I know you will love, if you don’t already, that is. These reigning queens of cookie are incredible at what they do (in no particular order):

Bridget, Bake at 350

Callye, The Sweet Adventures of Sugar Belle

Gail, One Tough Cookie

Marian, Sweetopia

Glory, Glorious Treats

Good luck & enjoy!

 

Sugar Cookie recipe adapted from my class at Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts

 

 

 

 

Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts has been teaching the art of cake design, decorating, and sugarcraft since 2008. They offer professional level programs for those committed to pursuing a career in cake design and a variety of continuing education for all skill levels.

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