Favorite Holiday Sugar Cookies

My husband’s favorite holiday sugar cookie recipe is a holiday cookie recipe found in a Cooks Illustrated annual hardcover.  The recipe is not found online on any of their various websites, so every year we have to go hunting for it because we forget what year it was published in.  The holiday cookie baking falls on his shoulders.


So here it is for ease of access:

In our search for a holiday cookie recipe that would yield cookies sturdy enough to decorate yet tender enough to eat, we started with the fat and found the right amount of butter to give the cookies great flavor without making them greasy. We used all-purpose flour in our holiday cookie dough recipe because it gave the dough enough gluten to provide structure. Superfine sugar gave our cookies a fine, even crumb. A surprise ingredient—cream cheese—added flavor and richness to our Glazed Butter Cookies without altering the texture of the cookies.


  • Butter Cookie Dough
    • 2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour, 12.5 ounces
    • ¾ cup superfine sugar, 5.5 ounces
    • ¼ teaspoon table salt
    • 16 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into sixteen ½-inch pieces, at cool room temperature
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 2 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature (approx. 1 oz per 2 T of cream cheese)
  • White chocolate or candy melts (optional)
  • Royal Icing / Flood Icing (optional – taken from Antonia74 @ CakeCentral)
    • 3/4 cup of warm water
    • 5 Tablespoons meringue powder
    • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
    • 2.25 lbs. powdered icing sugar

1. FOR THE COOKIES: In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With mixer running on low, add butter 1 piece at a time; continue to mix until mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, about 1 minute longer. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix on low until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds.

2. Remove bowl from mixer; knead dough by hand in bowl for 2 to 3 turns to form large cohesive mass. Turn out dough onto countertop; divide in half, pat into two 4-inch disks, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate until they begin to firm up, 20 to 30 minutes. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 weeks; defrost in refrigerator before using.)

3. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out 1 dough disk to even 1/8-inch thickness between 2 large sheets parchment paper; slide rolled dough on parchment onto baking sheet and chill until firm, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with second disk.

4. Working with first portion of rolled dough, cut into desired shapes using cookie cutter(s) and place shapes on parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until light golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Repeat with second portion of rolled dough. (Dough scraps can be patted together, chilled, and re-rolled once.) Cool cookies on wire rack to room temperature.

5. Use your preferred icing – Starbucks sometimes uses white chocolate or maybe those candy melts which are an alternative to royal icing which gets crunchy and hard, but allows for really detailed decoration.

6. For Royal Icing/Flood Icing:  In mixer bowl, pour in the warm water and the meringue powder. Mix it with a whisk by hand until it is frothy and thickened…about 30 seconds. Add the cream of tartar and mix for 30 seconds more. Pour in all the icing sugar at once and place the bowl on the mixer.
Using the paddle attachment on the LOWEST speed, mix slowly for a full 10 minutes. Icing will get thick and creamy. Cover the bowl with a dampened tea-towel to prevent crusting and drying.
Tint with food colourings or thin the icing with small amounts of warm water to reach the desired consistency.

If you cannot find superfine sugar, you can obtain a close approximation by processing regular granulated sugar in a food processor for about 20 seconds. If desired, the cookies can be finished with sprinkles or other decorations immediately after glazing.

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