These iced sugar cookies are classic: crisp, buttery, with hardened icing on top. To bake the best sugar cookies, work in a cool or cold kitchen, and work quickly.
To easily cut and transfer cookies to the baking trays, the butter must remain chilled and the dough stiff (like when making pie dough). When the dough warms up and the butter gets soft, the dough sticks and cut-outs will become distorted when you transfer them.
The biggest factor for success with sugar cookies is the surface on which you roll out the dough. There are many things that work well. I use a large slab of Corian countertop. If you have hard, cold, solid-surface countertops like granite, quartz, marble or Corian — not butcher block or laminate — or better yet, an island, work directly on top of it, making sure to wipe it down with water first, then dry it thoroughly. If you don’t have such a surface, commandeer a large work space and tape parchment paper to it. You also can use a silicone mat (look for the special oversized versions made for rolling out pie dough).
Lightly dust the surface with flour, then roll out the dough quickly. Don’t over-flour the surface or dough, or you’ll end up with tough cookies. If you need more flour to prevent sticking, switch to confectioner’s sugar.
As for special equipment, you’ll need a large bench scraper for picking up the dough cutouts and a small offset spatula for spreading the icing.
Perfect Iced Sugar Cookies Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 sticks butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 teaspoons meringue powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons water
Wilton Icing Colors (special food coloring), optional
Colored sprinkles, optional
To make the cookies: In small bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder.
In large bowl, combine butter and sugar with electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, at least 3 minutes. Add egg, vanilla bean paste and lemon zest, and beat well. Using electric mixer on low speed, add flour mixture until just combined.
Press dough into ball and flatten into disk about 3/4 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Adjust two oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Heat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.
Roll out dough to 1/8- to 1/4-inch thickness, depending on what you like and what works best at the time. Using various cookie cutters, cut out shapes. Pull away outer scraps of dough.
Using bench scraper, quickly insert under a cookie and lift out of dough. (Don’t worry about picking up dough scraps around the shape, just pull them off once the cookie is on the bench scraper.) Place cookies on prepared baking sheets by sliding off scraper or dropping it onto your hand and transferring to baking sheets. Space cookies 1 inch apart.
Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, or until edges just begin to brown. (Watch carefully so they don’t burn.) Cool on trays for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Yields about 32 cookies, depending on shapes and sizes.
To make the icing: In small bowl, whisk together confectioner’s sugar, meringue powder and salt. Gradually add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking until smooth, using just enough water to make the icing thick but still spreading consistency. (You don’t want it watery, just smooth and spreadable.)
If using food colorings, divide the icing into several smaller bowls. Dip a toothpick into food coloring and stir into icing. Mix well and adjust color to desired shade.
Using offset spatula, carefully spread icing on cookies. Add sprinkles immediately, if desired. Let Perfect Iced Sugar Cookies dry for 1 hour before handling.