Signature Sugar Cookie Dough, with variations

From the book Julia Usher's Ultimate Cookies by Julia M. Usher. What can I say? I’m nostalgic at heart, which is why you’ll find this cookie in so many projects throughout the book. You see, the Anise Seed Variation (p. 235) was my mom’s invention—and the very same cookie that my sibs and I decorated so happily each and every Christmas. Look closely at the photo of me circa 1971 (p. 4), and you’ll see me coddling one of these prized possessions! As one of my most delicate cookies, it’s best used for 2-D projects and small or non-weight-bearing 3-D constructions.

Makes about 1 pound 6 ounces dough or 3 to 3-1/2 dozen (2-1/2-inch) round cookies

Signature Sugar Cookie Dough, with variations

Prep Talk: For easiest handling, the dough should be chilled about 3 hours before rolling and cutting. The dough can be frozen for 1 month or more with minimal loss of flavor if wrapped tightly in plastic and then foil. For best eating, store baked cookies in airtight containers at room temperature and enjoy within 1 to 1-1/2 weeks.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Additional spices (per Variations, p. 235)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup (1/3 stick) shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or to taste, or per Variations)

  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and any additional spices (per Variations, p. 235) in a small bowl. Set aside for use in Step 4.

  2. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Do not over-beat, or your cookies will dome upon baking, making them more difficult to decorate later.

  3. Whisk together the egg, milk, and vanilla extract in another bowl. Add additional flavoring(s) to taste, or see Variations. Slowly blend into the butter mixture on low to medium speed and mix until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed, to ensure even mixing.

  4. Turn the mixer to low speed and gradually add the reserved dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate about 3 hours, or until firm enough to roll without sticking.

  5. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper (or silicone baking mats) and set aside.

  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 1/8- to 3/16-inch thickness. (Note: It’s best to roll these cookies no thicker than 3⁄16 inch in order to keep them their flattest for decorating.) Cut out assorted shapes with your favorite cookie cutters or the cutters or templates specified in the project you’ve chosen. Carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets with an offset spatula, leaving no less than 3/4 inch between each cutout.

  7. Baking time will vary considerably with cookie size and thickness. Bake until the cookies are lightly browned around their edges, about 8 to 10 minutes for 2-1/2-inch round cookies or as specified in your project. Let particularly long or delicately shaped cookies cool 1 to 2 minutes on the cookie sheets before transferring to wire racks. Otherwise, immediately transfer to racks and cool completely before frosting and/or assembling with Royal Icing (p. 242) or storing.