When I grew up, whenever we had sugar cookies – which I think was only at Christmas – they were decorated exclusively with jimmies and sprinkles and colored sugars, so homemade sugar cookies decorated with frosting always seem extra special to me. Plus, the icing lets you be a lot more creative and artistic than you could ever be with a dusting of colored sugar. Not that there’s anything wrong with decorating cookies that way, but when I want to kick regular sugar cookies up a notch, for a special occasion like Valentine’s Day, I break out the meringue powder and the disposable pastry bags.

These cookies are perfect for making cutouts. The cookies are tender and delicious and have a nice chew to them. They can be a bit tricky to roll out, but I found that when I followed the recipe’s advice to roll it out between two sheets of wax paper, it got easier. Plus, having it on a piece of wax paper made it really easy to pop it into the fridge for 10 minutes when the cut outs were being disagreeable about separating from the paper; once chilled, the dough behaved better.

As for the royal icing recipe and a fantastic tutorial, I refer you to the Brown Eyed Baker – that’s where I learned everything I know about decorating with royal icing.

All Occasion Sugar Cookies

From Brown Eyed Baker, Source: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Yield: about 50 2-inch cookies

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp (10 Tablespoons total)

1 cup sugar

1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whisk flour, salt, and baking powder together. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat butter at medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth. Beat in sugar and continue to beat for 2 minutes, until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low and and steadily add the flour mixture, until just incorporated. Stop mixer before the flour is thoroughly blended and finish the job with a rubber spatula.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide in half. To make roll out cookies, shape dough into disks and wrap in plastic. To make cut-and-bake cookies, roll into a 2-inch diameter log and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

To bake cookies: Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Roll out cookies: working with one disk at a time, roll out dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to 1/4 inch thick, turning dough over so that it rolls evenly. Cut out cookies, saving scraps to re-roll. Place on cookie sheets about 1 1/2 inch apart. This is a soft dough so if you have problems lifting the cookies, chill for 15 minutes and try again. Form the scraps into a disk and chill before rolling out again.

Slice-and-bake cookies: Use a sharp knife to slice to dough into 1/4-inch thick rounds, and place on cookie sheets about 1 1/2 inch between the cookies.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway though.The cookies should feel firm nut should not color much if at all. Let the cookies rest on the cookie sheet for 1 minute before removing to a rack to cool completely. Let the cookie sheets cool between batches.