Now that our friends in the US have celebrated Thanksgiving, it’s now officially okay to go nuts about Christmas. Pinterest has exploded in a green and red mass of baked goods. I’m now well and truly in the Christmas spirit.
I’ve been living in England for just over 12 years now, and I still learn new things every day. I heard a few friends mention “stir-up Sunday” over the weekend, and had no clue what it meant. I discovered you are supposed to make your Christmas pudding on the last Sunday before advent, which was this past weekend. How I didn’t know about something dessert-related is beyond me, but there you go.
Although I’m not a huge fan of Christmas pudding (a slowly steamed cake, filled with fruits, nuts, and booze) and have never made one myself, I am a huge fan of Christmas baking. Not only does it produce yummy things to eat, it keeps the kids entertained. It’s also a great way to create teacher presents without breaking the bank.
I don’t have a lot of free time these days, so I have to bake as and when I can. I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the number of Christmas recipes that don’t tell you if you can make it ahead of time or how long it will keep. Over the next few Fridays, I’m going to talk about recipes you can do in advance and I will tell you HOW FAR IN ADVANCE YOU CAN MAKE IT. (Sorry for shouting.)
I stumbled across “The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle” (http://www.sweetsugarbelle.
Amazingly, this one doesn’t spread. Okay, it does a little, but the cookies still hold their shape very well. You don’t chill the dough before baking or after cutting – you just roll, cut, and bake. The baked, uniced cookies can be frozen for up to a month, so you can make these well in advance of Christmas. Take them out of the freezer around 15–20 minutes before you decorate them. Once iced with royal icing, they keep for around a week in an airtight container. The batch I made last weekend is going to be decorated by the kids a little later in December for gifts.
I used fondant spacers to get the dough to a 3/4'” thickness. They are plastic dowels that go under the rolling pin with the dough/icing in the middle. You can use wooden dowels from the hardware store as a cheaper substitution.
Your oven may vary. Mine is the diva of ovens: temperamental and very high maintenance. I always have to turn anything I bake halfway through so that one side doesn’t end up burnt. Bake a couple of cookies at first to get an idea of timing.
I got over 2 dozen cookies from this recipe (31 to be precise), but of course this depends on the size of your cutter. They are buttery, light, and most importantly, don’t come out looking like unidentifiable blobs.
Sugarbelle’s Sugar Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cup confectioner’s/icing sugar
1 large egg
2–3 tsp flavouring (I used vanilla)
2 1/2 to 2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 400F/180C (fan-assist). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick silicone baking sheet.
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. In another bowl, combine the egg and vanilla, and add it to the butter mixture. Mix well – it might look a bit “curdled”, but that’s fine. It’ll come together in the end.
In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter, sugar, and egg mixture. The dough is ready when it comes away from the sides of the bowl and sticks to the paddle. You want it to be soft to the touch, but not sticky. I started with 2 ½ cups of flour and added more by the spoonful until the dough came together; I probably used close to 3 cups in total.
Dust your surface with a little flour. Roll out to ¼” thickness (you may need to dust the top with a little more flour so the rolling pin doesn’t stick), cut, and bake for around 7 minutes.
Let the cookies sit for a minute or two, then transfer to a wire rack. Let them cool completely before decorating or putting into the freezer.