Great classic sugar cookie {buttery, not too sweet and they hold their shape} + Royal Frosting

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When I think of sugar cookies I think of my brothers sticking a million toothpicks into one cookie with very choice red frosting all over for "blood". I also think of them snatching my cookies and biting the head off of my gingerbread men.... and me squirting frosting all over their creations in revenge. 

We don’t do that anymore.

The decorating cookies thing. 

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Honestly sometimes I get sad around the holidays because I think of how things have changed so much.  I miss those mornings with everyone in their matching pajamas and the smell of baked oatmeal in the oven. I miss my entire family throwing wrapping-paper balls at each other all morning (we call these Southern California snow balls) and my sister’s cute bob-haircut sitting next to me while I looked through my stocking. I miss the days when all I was worried about was whether or not my crush was going to be on instant messenger at the same time I was and what elastic-wasted pants should I wear to the Christmas feast?

I know you know the heartache that comes with change - especially around the holidays.

Change can really suck.

But change can also be wonderful and fun, if we let it. 

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I try to make our own traditions now with John and Myles. It is SO FUN to enjoy Christmastime with the perspective of giving - especially giving to Myles. He's just old enough to kinda get it all and it's the best. 

When I made these sugar cookies for this post I had Myles on my lap while I decorated. The first time I put a fresh cookie to decorate in front of us he grabbed it without any hint of hesitation hello! my child, and took a big bite and said, “MmmMmmMmm” in a dippy-sing-song way. I kissed his bald little head, asked him if it was good and put another cookie in front of us to decorate. (It was hard decorating cookies with a bouncing + dancing boy on my lap, so, forgive my piping job.) 

It’s certainly not the same cookie decorating party we used to have with my brothers and extended family, but in a way, it’s just a good.

This holiday season I’m really trying to embrace change with a full heart. I don’t know if you need to do that too. Maybe things are better this year than they were last, but I figure the only way we can be happy with change is by dancing with it a little bit and not running away from it.

Have you seen the movie Harriet the Spy? (I love that movie) Towards the middle-end-ish in the movie there's this man that gets all of his pet cats taken away from him by the authorities because he's not allowed to have 20+ cats in his place. It's heartbreaking. (Truly I always tear at this part because those cats are this mans life). But then by the end of the movie there's this scene where a tiny kitten pops out of his shirt and he's just so happy. It may not be 20 cats, but it is one little cat. 

Change is like this. Sometimes it's feeling the sadness of getting all 20 of your very best cat friends taken away from you for no good reason; but then, if we agree to dance with it, change can also be like a small kitten popping out of our shirts. It may not be the same as our 20 cat friends, but it is something. 

Bottom line: There is so much good to be had, right here, and right now. Don't squander the present. 

Hugs to you.  xo

ps. So many more recipes + tips to come my friends - so check back here soon. And! Thank you new and old friends for coming to my cookie decorating workshop at Anthropologie last Saturday. We sold out again very quickly (THANK YOU). Special shout out to my new friend Cambria, (I wanted to talk to you more at the workshop!) who has made it to every single one of my workshops. You my friend, are amazing. Thank you!

Friends, if you want to mark your calendars next workshop is January 27th 2018 (Sat) at 10am. Sign ups to be announced to subscribers first as soon as they're available. More details to come, but this one is more of a health-focused workshop. xo  

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the best classic sugar cookie

makes 15-18 2 ½ inch cookies | by robyn holland |*

I'm just gonna say it, usually sugar cookies are gross. (I'm not the only one who thinks this right?) But these aren't gross, these are good. While royal frosting (the frosting we use here) isn't my favorite frosting it is necessary here because it hardens as it drys, therefore it's the best to decorate with. There's something about decorating a sugar cookie that brings out the kid in all of us, right? It's simply sugar at its funnest. (I know, I know funnest isn’t a real word. ;) These don't disappoint. 

bakers note:  I think these are best just slightly underdone, but sometimes I completely over do them too for some nice brown crispy edges. You really can't go wrong and they're pretty hard to ruin.  

for the cookies: 
1 ¾ cup / 245g all-purpose flour, preferably organic

¼ teaspoon of medium grain kosher salt 

¼ teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum free

¾ cups (1 ½ sticks) / 170g unsalted butter, softened 

⅔ cup / 133g sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature, preferably pasture-raised and/or organic

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons lemon zest (optional, add the zest if you want a tiny hint of lemon to your sugar cookies) 

for the royal icing: 

2 cups / 240g powdered sugar, sifted

2 large egg whites, I always use super fresh, pasture-raised eggs especially when making this. Do not skimp on the quality of your eggs. The eggs can be cold for this. 

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, a little more or a little less depending on the dryness of the day 

food coloring, I use a mix of high quality food coloring gel and natural dye. 

Preheat oven to 325° F / 170° C. Prepare an un-greased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. note! There is some chill time in-between your actual get-the-cookies-in-the-oven time. It’s actually better for your cookies to have your oven heating for at least an hour, but if you don’t want to do that, turn your oven on after the second chill of your dough.

Measure and whisk together all dry ingredients (except the sugar) in a separate bowl. 

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment mix together the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy. About 5-8 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until just combined. 

Slowly add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Be careful not to over mix. The dough will be very, very soft and sticky and impossible to roll out at this point. note: The dough will probably look like you didn't do it right at first but you did. Remember the dough will firm up nicely as it chills and soak up lots of flour as we roll it out. 

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and/or parchment paper and put it in a zip lock bag and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, or until firm OR 15-20 minutes in the freezer for the first chill. Fridge works best because it chills the dough more evenly, but freezer works in a pinch.

Unwrap the dough and lay a new, clean piece of parchment paper down on where you plan on rolling out the dough and flour the entire surface. 

Roll out the dough on your floured parchment paper until the dough is about ¼ inch thick. Parchment paper might slide a little bit, that’s okay. You can tape it down if it bugs. Put rolled-out dough on a sheet pan, and refrigerate that flat dough, for the second chill. About 20 minutes. 

Cut into shapes with a cookie cutter and place on your parchment lined cookie sheet that you prepared earlier. Your dough is nice and cold now, so cutting shapes should be much easier! Yay!

Pop cookies in the oven for about 12-15 minutes. Try not over bake. They will be the faintest golden brown around the edges when done, but still a milky dough color in the middle. This is perfect. If you'd like them under baked the whole cookie will be milky with no golden brown edges. Unless you want a crunchy sugar cookie then let them brown a little but watch them, as they can brown too quickly. (They're never bad brown though! So don't fret if you over bake!) 

Let the cookies cool for 15-20 minutes before icing. They'll cool faster if you take them off the cookie sheet and onto a cooling wrack, but be careful. 

Decorate with royal icing (recipe below). 

Let the icing dry on the cookies before storing. (I usually let mine dry over night, then immediately wrap them up in the morning but if you live in a dry area, don't leave them out that long - 4 hours tops.) 

Store in an airtight container for about 3-5 days - making sure you separate the cookies with parchment to prevent sticking. I think these are best the day or the day after their made. 

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for the royal icing: 

Makes enough for one recipe of sugar cookies - with a little extra to spare.

bakers note:  I recommend making this with an electric mixer, but this entire recipe can easily be made by hand with whisk and bowl. But if you make it by hand be SURE to sift the confectioners' sugar beforehand... I mean you don't HAVE to, but be prepared to whisk aggressively as you add the liquid to take away any lumps. Sifting beforehand is way way, easier.

With a whisk or paddle attachment on your electric mixer beat your egg whites until slightly frothy - about 1-2 minutes. (If making this by hand just beat egg whites in a large bowl vigorously until slightly frothy)

Then slowly slowly add your powdered sugar. See how thick the mixture is and add your lemon juice accordingly - you may not need any lemon juice at all, see notes below. The mixture should have the texture of a thick glaze. Be careful not to over liquify it. If it's too runny, just add more powdered sugar. If it's way too thick, add a little more lemon juice. You want the goldilocks thing here, the frosting should be just right. 

Separate the frosting into several bowls to make different colored icings. Remember a little dye goes a long way. 

You can easily spread your icing on with a spoon, but it's super fun to decorate the cookies with squeeze bottles or a pastry bag with a fine tip if you want more detailed sugar cookies. Both spoon and squeeze bottle work! 

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more bakers notes: 

  • These cookies certainly don't need frosting if you don't feel like making it. Or if you'd like to make the frosting without any dye and left white, they're still super cute. I dare say these are also awesome dipped in melted dark chocolate, or with a dollop of ganache on top and served with a cup of tea.
  • Just in case you missed this note I'm gonna say it again: The dough will probably look like you didn't do it right at first but you did. It's extremely "wet" and soft when all of the ingredients are combined. Remember the dough will firm up nicely as it chills and it soaks up lots of flour that we roll it out. 
  • The lemon juice for the frosting is kinda optional. If your frosting is really dry and needs more liquid add some more lemon juice or more egg white. You want it thick, but not too thick that you can't easily frost a cookie with it.
  • How do I know my frosting is the right thickness? With a spatula you should be able to scoop some frosting up and then let it drop back into the bowl. You should see a thick "ribbon-like" stream form. That "ribbon" should stay in it's "ribbony" shape for 3 seconds and then disappear into the rest of the frosting.
  • Make sure your cut-out cookies are chilled so they hold their shape when you bake them. This makes a difference. I also find that for this dough, the thinner the cookie, the more they hold their shape. 
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Food dyes: I use Wilton's paste and India Tree natural food colorings

Cookie Cutter: Cloud cookie cutter from Herriot Grace

*This recipe was adapted from Baked I started using this recipe years and years ago. It’s SO similar to my family’s old sugar cookie recipe - but I actually like it a little bit better. Shhhh don’t tell grandma. ;)