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Holiday Desserts: Sugar Cookies

UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works' recipe for sugar cookies, plus his professional cooking advice and garnishing tricks.

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By Alison Hewitt, Photos by Reed Hutchinson '71

Published Nov 24, 2008 5:15 PM


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Sugar Cookies

"This is probably one of the most simple cookie recipes I have, yet it tastes excellent," Works says. "It's such a quality dough, I even use it as a crust in my lemon bars."

With just six ingredients — butter, sugar, salt, eggs, cake flour and all-purpose flour — this is an easy recipe to tackle, and the dough can be made the day before guests arrive and stored in the fridge until you're ready to bake it. Works' recipe includes a sure-fire way to get even sprinkle coverage on your cookies, if you're willing to add that seventh ingredient.

A note

For purists, the complete, uninterrupted recipe appears at the end of this page. For the full cooking-school experience, read the annotated version of the recipe below, with tips and interjections from UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works.

Annotated recipe, with tips

Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

Cookies:
1 lb., 8 oz. butter
1 lb., 2 oz. sugar
pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
— Works recommends using only grade-A large eggs. That way, you know they're always going to be 2 ounces, Works says. "It keeps the proportions just right," he explains. "That's how I know my recipes will turn out right."
15 oz. cake flour
14 oz. all-purpose flour

Garnish: (optional)
Crystal sugar, sprinkles and/or nuts — crystal sugar isn't a brand, it's just a type of sugar, like granulated sugar, but crystal sugar looks more like tiny rock candy. "The pieces are bigger than granulated so they're more visible on the cookie," Works explains. "It comes in colors or clear, and it gives the cookies a fancy, pretty look."

Directions

Prep:
Preheat oven to 340 degrees.

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Sugar cookies, with crystal sugar, in front, and sweetened hazelnuts, in back. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.

Dough:
Combine the butter, sugar and salt; creaming them together well. Next, add the two eggs yolks. Now, add the cake flour and all-purpose flour. Mix until blended.

Shape:
Three options:
1) Scoop rounded spoonfuls of room-temperature dough onto a baking sheet. Flatten slightly on sheet. Add sugar or sprinkles as desired.
Ice-cream scoops, run occasionally under hot water, are a good way to scoop evenly sized cookies out of your bowl of dough, Works says. If you choose to make the cookies this way instead of using cookie cutters, it's best to scoop them at room temperature. You can use his sprinkle trick (see below) if you stick them in the freezer after scooping them out.
2) Roll the dough out and use a cookie cutter. Place cookies on cookie sheet. Add sugar or sprinkles as desired. Don't forget to put flour under the dough as you roll it out. Gather the leftover dough into a ball after you run out of cookie-cutter room, redust the rolling surface with flour, and roll the dough out again on top of the flour to start cutting again.
3) Chill the dough — in a bowl, already rolled out, or already in cookie form — in the refrigerator or freezer overnight or until ready to use. Dip the cookies into sugar or sprinkles while they thaw. Works has a few gripes about sprinkling sugar or sprinkles onto cookies that are already on a baking sheet. "The cookies don't get sprinkled evenly, and you end up with more on the baking sheet than on the cookies." Misting room-temperature cookies with water will help the sprinkles stick a little better, but his preferred method is the freezer. "When baking my sugar cookies, I chill them after scooping or cutting them. Take them out of the cold, and as they start to warm up, they sweat a little. That is the best time to dip the tops in crystal sugar or sprinkles. You get a nice even coating — much better than just trying to sprinkle them with your fingers. And cold cookies bake better, and don't spread as much." That means that cookie-cutter shapes look more like what they started as!

Cook:
Bake at 340 degrees for approximately 14-16 minutes.

Uninterrupted recipe

Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

Cookies:
1 lb., 8 oz. butter
1 lb., 2 oz. sugar
pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
15 oz. cake flour
14 oz. all-purpose flour

Garnish: (optional)
Crystal sugar, sprinkles and/or nuts

Directions

Prep:
Preheat oven to 340 degrees.

Dough:
Combine the butter, sugar and salt; creaming them together well. Next, add the two eggs yolks. Now, add the cake flour and all-purpose flour. Mix until blended.

Shape:
Three options:
1) Scoop rounded spoonfuls of room-temperature dough onto a baking sheet. Flatten slightly on sheet. Add sugar or sprinkles as desired.
2) Roll the dough out and use a cookie cutter. Place cookies on cookie sheet. Add sugar or sprinkles as desired.
3) Chill the dough — in a bowl, already rolled out, or already in cookie form — in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use. Dip the cookies into sugar or sprinkles while they thaw.

Cook:
Bake at 340 degrees for approximately 14-16 minutes.

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