Throughout my life, I have made thousands of cookies, for consumption at work and at home.
I have never — I repeat: Never — made a cutout cookie.
I have a large and varied collection of cookie cutters, which I display in a decorative jar in my kitchen.
All of them remain unused.
I am one of those people who might be referred to as “not artistic”— as in, I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.
The simple truth is that I find the idea of decorating cutout cookies too intimidating.
In high school, when all the cool kids were taking art, I took additional English classes. By the time I graduated, I had taken every English class my school offered.
Each year, as I scurried to the library in search of another Bronte sister, I would watch the cool art students happily paint the office windows with Christmas scenes of Snoopy and Rudolph.
Back then, the truth was painful to admit. Over time, though, I found outlets for creative expression in writing and cooking. I still can’t draw, paint, craft or sew.
I make the revelation about cutouts now because I’ve been thinking that I might try to make some. They are my husband’s favorite cookies.
I sought help from two friends, both expert makers and decorators of cutout cookies.
The first is Wendy Kromer, a professional pastry chef and the owner of Wendy Kromer Confections (www.wendykromer.com) in Sandusky, Ohio. Wendy’s works of art regularly grace the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings, for which she is a contributing editor.
Her cutout cookies are so fancy that I can’t bring myself to eat one. I have, however, displayed them and hung them on my Christmas tree.
After overcoming the shock of learning that I have never made cutouts, Wendy offered advice: Bake them in stages, as she does in her bakery. To ease the challenge, she takes one day to make the dough, another to cut out and bake the cookies, and a third to decorate them.
Wendy said makers of cutout cookies fall into two camps: Those who bake for eating, and those who bake for decorating.
“There are the cutout cookies that are merely the vehicle for the standard, sweet, spreadable buttercream frosting, which is really what this cookie lover is going for,” she said, “And the cutout cookies that are meant for holding up to meticulous decorating and packaging.
“The former is the easier, and typically gets sprinkles as its only decoration. The latter calls for decorating bags, coupler and tips, sprinkles, nonpareils, sanding sugars and a different style of icing. This is where the ‘get this in my belly’ folks stop reading.”
I figure that I’ll start with the basics, given that I don’t expect to reach the “meticulous decorating and packaging” level.
For the basics, I found help from another friend, Mary Beth Breckenridge, the home-and-garden writer for the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal. In her off hours, Mary Beth is a decorator extraordinaire — home, garden, cookie and otherwise.
Each year, she makes delicious soft sugar cookies that her family has been decorating for the holidays for decades.
She was happy to share her recipe, which, she promised, is tasty and foolproof.
I’m sharing the recipe with all of you because there’s a good chance I will not make cutouts, and I don’t want a good recipe going to waste.
MARY BETH BRECKENRIDGE’S SOUR CREAM CUTOUT COOKIES
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks, sour cream and vanilla extract. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and stir in.
Roll out dough 1/8- to ¼-inch thick on a floured surface and cut in desired shapes with floured cookie cutters. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet 10 to 12 minutes, or until cookies are just beginning to turn golden on the bottom.
Frost with icing made of powdered sugar, 1 to 2 tablespoons softened butter, 1/8- to 1/4-teaspoon vanilla extract and enough milk to create a spreadable consistency.
PER SERVING: 96 calories, 1 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 4 g sugars, 5 g fat (3 saturated), 18 mg cholesterol, 39 mg sodium
— Lisa Abraham writes about food for The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. Email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @DispatchKitchen.