Everyone has their favorite sugar cookie recipe. This one is mine; it's the recipe I grew up with. We made them every Christmas and I always associate them with that holiday. Maybe that makes me biased, but I've tasted a lot of sugar cookies, and I still think it's a pretty darn good recipe.
I particularly like how light and crispy a cookie it makes. The mixture of the butter flavor with the vanilla and almond flavorings really is superb and once they are decorated with a little sprinkled sugar, they are divine.
When I was a kid, my mom would mix up the dough and cut out the shapes and my brother and I would sit at the table decorating them. We took our job very seriously and it took us quite a bit of time to decorate them "properly." I still like a beautifully decorated cookie, but I'm a bit more assembly line these days. My favorite is the holly leaf cookie. Green sugar (make your own with sugar and food coloring) and red hots for the berries make a beautiful, festive cookie.
Mix the cookie dough in the traditional way: cream the butter, sugar, egg, and extracts and then mix in the combined dry ingredients. It will be a fairly soft dough at this point, so roll it out into a log inside a sheet of plastic wrap and then put it in the refrigerator to harden for an hour or so.
Cut the dough into four pieces and only take one out of the chill box at a time. Roll the dough out on a well floured surface with a covered rolling pin. I bake mine on a parchment sheet because I get a little crazy with the sugar and it makes clean up easier, but these cookies have enough butter in them you can bake them on an ungreased sheet and never worry about them sticking.
Roll them as thin as you reasonably can. It gets harder as the dough warms up, but I find 3/16 of an inch is pretty doable. See how thin they are? They poof up nicely when they bake so if you start them out too thick, they end up heavy and too dense for my taste. If you like a thick, somewhat chewy sugar cookie, then - by all means - roll them thicker, but I think they're best when they're thin.
Decorate as you wish and bake in a 375 degree F oven for about 10 minutes. I think they have the best flavor when they are slightly browned. Just be aware, when you first start to see color, either take them out of the oven or start hovering. If you walk away, there is a good chance by the time you come back they will be over baked. That last bit of browning goes fast!
Cool on a rack and then store in an air tight container. They are fairly fragile, so don't just toss them into a cookie jar or you'll end up with a bunch of pieces.
See how much they rise? So delicate and crispy. Oh, if I hadn't already consumed forty of these in the last 24 hours, I'd go have one right now for a mid-morning snack. Oh, who am I kidding? Now that they've crossed my mind, I'm going to go have to eat one... or many. I don't think I've ever been able to stop at one. They're that good!
My Favorite Sugar Cookies
Yield: about 75 cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tarter
Cream the butter, sugar, egg, and extracts together. Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl and then stir into the wet ingredients. Dump dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form the dough into a log. Wrap and chill for an hour before rolling.
Roll out on a floured surface with a covered rolling pin. Place on a parchment lined or ungreased cookie sheet. Decorate as desired and bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes or until gently browned. Cool on a rack and store in an air tight container up to one week.