Here is a basic recipe for buttery, crisp sugar cookies. While it is simple, it is equally tasty. This variation uses colored sugars to decorate the tops. The four recipes that follow use the same cookie dough, but are formed and decorated to give you very different results.
Field Notes: This is often the first rolled cookie taught to American children. Recipes from the early 1800s are very similar in that none of them use baking powder, which didn’t come into use till decades later. The lack of leavener helps keep the cookies flat, which yields a nice surface for whatever kind of decoration you like.
Lifespan: 1 month at room temperature in an airtight container.
Yield: Thirty-six 3-inch cookies
3¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
Colored sugars and granulated sugar
1. Whisk flour and salt together in a small bowl.
2. In large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add granulated sugar gradually and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes; beat in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add about one-third of flour mixture and mix on low speed. Gradually add remaining flour, mixing just until blended. Scrape dough onto large piece of plastic wrap form into 2 very flat discs, cover completely with wrap, and refrigerate until firm enough to roll out, at least 2 hours or overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
4. Take 1 disc and roll out to ¼-inch thickness on floured surface; you may need to flour the pin, too. Cut out cookies with shapes of choice. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Decorate with colored sugars or granulated sugar as you wish. Bake until edges just begin to turn light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Slide parchment onto racks to cool cookies completely.
This dough is sensitive to heat and humidity; the more of each there is, the stickier the dough. If you find you have a soft, sticky dough after following the directions, just add a bit more flour and you will have success.
You will probably want to make cookies of all sizes and shapes. Just make sure that similarly sized cookies are on the same pan so that they bake evenly.