Christmas escaped me this year. I don't know if it was my unusually bizarre work schedule (two back-to-back Halloween shoots followed immediately by an unexpected Easter shoot the Friday before Christmas) or the seemingly never-ending parade of bad headlines, but I just couldn't find my mojo. Mercifully, I finally gave up, which was exactly what I needed to enjoy the day. Sometimes you just have to let it go.
Ironically, the Christmas spirit hit me a couple of days after it was over. So I translated all of that goodwill and energy into New Year's baking for friends and family. I might be a bit out of step this year, but if there's one thing I've learned from my profession - every day's a holiday.
I've got a great, basic sugar cookie recipe that I can always count on. The cookies hold up in transit and have a longer shelf life than softer, cakier cookies. But after a couple of batches of basic, I started to get the urge to experiment. I tried a couple of different recipes, but I still preferred the texture of the recipe I started with. So I went back to the basic and used it as a building block for two variations.
I'm so glad I took the time to do this. Emotionally, it was satisfying (baking = love). Mentally, it was grounding. Creatively, it was stimulating. And next year, should I find myself in a mad scramble, I'll know that I have recipes that are tried-and-true.
Happy New Year!
Classic Sugar Cookie
(with a touch of brandy)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons brandy
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.
2. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy; add the eggs, brandy, and vanilla extract and beat until well combined.
3. Add the dry mixture gradually, beating until incorporated.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and slightly flatten it with your hand. Chill for at least an hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough on a well floured surface (from 1/8 - 1/4-inch thick) and cut out with cookie cutters. Transfer the cutouts to a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes, or just until the edges look slightly golden. Let them sit on the pan for a minute or two, then transfer them with a spatula to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Tip: If your dough gets too warm and cutouts don't hold a crisp shape, try refrigerating the cutouts for about 10 minutes before baking.
I don't follow a recipe for this, but I usually start out with about 1 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar, then add a tablespoon of milk and a squeeze or two of lemon juice. After I stir it all together, I add more milk or lemon juice, if needed. You can make the frosting as thick or thin as you desire, simply by adjusting the amount of sugar or liquid.
Add 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg to the basic dough, mixing it in with the dry ingredients. Top with Brandy Frosting and dust with freshly ground nutmeg.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon brandy
In a bowl, soften the butter with an electric mixer at low speed. Sift in the powdered sugar. Add the brandy and beat until smooth.
(The Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans, making this a very personal, regional rendition of a sugar cookie.)
Substitute 4 Tablespoons Sazerac Rye for the brandy in the cookie batter and add 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest. Frost with Sazerac Frosting.
2 cups confectioners' sugar
5 teaspoons Sazerac rye
1/2 teaspoon Herbsaint liqueur
1/2 teaspoon Peychaud's bitters
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 egg white, beaten
Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until the mixture is smooth and spreadable.