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Cookies

Irma R., a novice home cook, turns to F&W's Tina Ujlaki with her kitchen questions. This month, the topic is Christmas cookies: from making the dough to baking it properly.

Question

Dear Tina,

Can you recommend a simple, foolproof sugar cookie recipe? One where the dough isn't so soft that it's hard to roll out but is still buttery and delicious?
Gratefully, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

Here's a recipe for sugar cookies from Rose's Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy Beranbaum, one of my all-time favorite holiday cookbooks. I hope you like the cookies as much as I do.
Best, Tina

Question

Dear Tina,

I made the cookies, and I have a question. Why do I need to process the sugar?
Yours, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

According to Rose, processing the sugar until it's superfine gives these cookies an even crumb and keeps them from cracking during baking.
Best, Tina

Question

Dear Tina,

One other thing: When the recipe calls for processing the butter and sugar until creamy, what is that supposed to look like? I'm afraid I might have overbeaten them.
Your friend, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

Beating the butter and sugar together lightens the dough and makes a foundation for the other ingredients.

In this recipe, neither underbeating nor overbeating should have an adverse effect on the dough. As soon as the butter and sugar are blended and fluffy, you can stop mixing.
Best, Tina

Question

Dear Tina,

Once I made the dough, I chilled it overnight. It was hard as a brick and impossible to work with. After clonking it a few times with my rolling pin, I finally got it loosened up a bit. What should I do next time?
Fondly, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

If you're in a huge rush, grate the dough coarsely, gather it together and roll it out. Otherwise, quarter the dough and let it soften on the counter until just pliable, about 15 minutes.
Best, Tina

Question

Dear Tina,

When I was baking the cookies, it was hard to tell exactly when they were done, because the bottoms browned much faster than the tops. Can you help?
Thanks, Irma

Answer

Dear Irma,

Maybe you baked the cookies on the bottom rack of the oven, where the heat's direct, or maybe your cookie sheets are very thin. Try baking cookies on the middle racks of the oven and switching the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through; as soon as they lose their raw sheen and feel quite set, they're done.
Best, Tina

Published December 2003
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