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Sugar cookies make an excellent blank canvas for decorating. Go for traditional red and green sprinkles or get creative with frosting, candies and other toppings. (Republican Eagle photos by Michael Brun)

The sweet smell of cookie season

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It’s been said that different scents can trigger memories from one’s past. Few things bring back the nostalgia of childhood quite like the comforting smell of vanilla extract and warm butter in fresh-baked Christmas cookies.

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Whether made to decorate and enjoy at home or serve as gifts to guests and loved ones, baking cookies can be a wonderful holiday activity for the whole family.

Although holiday cookies come in countless varieties — peanut blossoms, spritz, rosettes, gingerbread and more — the venerable sugar cookie is relatively simple to bake and can be decorated with frosting and other toppings to fit any theme.

Easy sugar cookies

(Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

•Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside.

•In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients. Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into balls and place onto ungreased cookie sheet.

•Bake eight to 10 minutes in the preheated oven or until golden. Let stand on cookie sheet two minutes before removing to cool on wire racks.

This recipe will make around four dozen sugar cookies. Once they have had a chance to cool down, the cookies can be decorated using festive sprinkles, frosting and small candies to give them holiday flair.

Tips from the expert

Lynette Gudrais, co-owner of Red Wing’s Candlelight Inn, started cooking alongside her mother as a child and has continued through much of her life. The accomplished cook recently taught a Community Education cookie class at Red Wing High School to impart some of her considerable baking knowledge.

“Almost always use real butter,” Gudrais said. When a recipe gives the option for butter or margarine, go for the real thing for best results.

Gudrais also said she recommends using a stand mixer when making dough. The mixer combines ingredients more completely and helps avoid lumps.

“I use mine every day,” she said. “It’s so much easier.”

A food processor is handy too, especially if a recipe calls for chopped nuts, she added. She advises against using a blender for this step because “they just turn them to mush.”

When it comes time to put the dough on a baking sheet, she said it’s a good idea to first put down parchment paper for easier cleanup, and to make sure the sheet cools before reusing.

For more uniform and presentable cookies, Gudrais said to make dough balls using a spring handle scoop, and to space them at least two inches apart to allow for expansion.

She said two of the more common mistakes bakers make early on are not keeping dough chilled and too much re-patting after making a mistake. Overworking the dough can make cookies tough.

Gudrais also said she recommends using an oven thermometer to know exactly how hot it is. When baking cookies, temperature and baking time are important.

“Just a minute or two difference can burn them,” she said.

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Michael Brun
Michael Brun is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program. He has worked for the Republican Eagle since March 2013, covering county government, health and local events. 
(651) 301-7875
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