Note that I said “psychedelic,” not “psychotropic.” These cookies might look like they’re straight out of the Vegas scenes in Knocked Up (“The tall one’s gawking at me, and the short one’s being very droll!”), but I assure you the only high you’ll be getting from these babies is a sugar high.
Sugar cookies are a staple recipe for every baking enthusiast–one of the cornerstones of cookiedom, right up there with chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, and shortbreads. And like any good basic recipe, they are infinitely versatile. You can leave them unvarnished, roll them in sugar, or slather on the frosting; stick with plain vanilla or spice things up (literally and figuratively) with zests, extracts, liqueurs, etc.; cut them out into shapes or roll the dough into logs and slice and bake precisely as many (or as few) as you like. They’re basically the cookie version of a little black dress–easy to dress up or dress down and perfect for every occasion.
Below is my go-to sugar cookie recipe, frosted in my favorite too-lazy-to-be-precise-but-still-impressive-looking style. The almond extract is optional, but highly recommended–I am of the opinion that when it comes to baking, a little almond extract makes just about everything better. But if you’re not of a like mind, feel free to leave it out or sub in your own favorite flavor!
For the cookies:
- 2 sticks butter (room temperature)
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp vanilla
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 3 cups flour
For the frosting:
- powdered sugar
- food coloring
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a large-ish bowl if you’re using a hand mixer), cream together butter and sugar, mixing on medium speed until pale and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract, and beat until combined. Add in the salt, baking soda, baking powder, and flour, and mix until dough forms.
- Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a ball. Cut the ball into quarters, flatten each quarter into a disk, and wrap each in plastic wrap.
- Pop the dough into the fridge for at least 1 hour to chill.
- Once the dough has chilled, take the first disk out and begin to roll it out onto a moderately floured surface and cut out in the shape of your choice. Leave the other disks in the fridge while you work with the first one and take them out one-by-one as you need more dough. *Note: This recipe makes about 6 dozen cookies, so if don’t want or need that many cookies hanging around, feel free to freeze some of the dough for later use (make sure to wrap it up tight in cling wrap and then place it in a ziploc to stave off freezer burn) or just halve the recipe.
- Place the cutouts on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes. Depending on what type of baking sheet you are using, you may or may not need to grease the baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. If you have air bake baking sheets, you can probably get away without it, since the they tend to stick less generally and the high butter content of these cookies makes them prone to sticking.
- When the cookies are done, take the out of the oven and let them cool a couple minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire cooling rack. Let the cookies cool completely before frosting.
- While you’re waiting for the cookies to cool, go ahead and make your frostings. I have to admit here that I don’t have a precise recipe for this component, as I generally just eyeball it. Basically, for each separate color you plan to make, you want a decent amount of powdered sugar, just enough milk to get the frosting somewhat liquid-y but not too runny, and however many drops of food coloring it takes to get your desired level of color intensity. If you’re shooting for more pastel colors, stick with just one or two drops; if you’re going for something a little more vibrant, add more. You could also add a flavor to the frosting (vanilla, peppermint, more almond extract, whatever).
- To get the sort of tie-dye/modern artsy effect below, start by covering the cookie completely in one color. I just use a spoon for this, but you could also use pastry brushes if you have them on hand. (Make sure you use a separate spoon/brush for each color.) Then, before the frosting base coat has set, drizzle on another color in whatever pattern/non-pattern strikes your fancy.
- Once the cookies are frosted, leave the out to let the frosting set. I have often made the mistake of transferring them into a container before the frosting is fully set, which means that half the cookies end up sticking to each other. So, don’t be like me–have a little patience and you will be richly rewarded in the form of beautiful, non-stuck-together cookies.
And there you have it! Loads of delicious, colorful cookies to brighten the day of whoever you deign to share them with.