In my opinion, the easiest cookie to mess up is the sugar cookie. Sometimes I think the original recipe must have been developed by Kung Fu masters to teach their pupils patience, because patience is the most necessary ingredient in a perfect sugar cookie. But a few tips won't hurt you either, Grasshopper. Here are the 5 most common mistakes and how to avoid them:
Mistake #1: Immature Dough A sugar cookie that looks runny and loses it's shape is usually due to dough that hasn't had time to age in the fridge. Sugar cookie dough should sit in the fridge for 12-24 hours for best results. If you hate the idea of having to wait for sugar cookies, make two batches next time and freeze one while the other ages in the fridge. The frozen dough will keep up to 3 months and can be pulled out and thawed on the countertop or in the fridge.
Mistake #2: Sloppy Edges The buttery, sugary dough can get stuck on your cookie cutter, making your edges sloppy. To avoid this mistake, work the dough while it is still nice and cold, then dip the rim of your cookie cutter in flour after every one or two cuts. This will give you clean lines.
Mistake #3: Under- and Over-cooking A melt-in-your mouth sugar cookie needs to be perfectly cooked and should come out of the oven just before the edges begin to brown. But how can you tell? Look at the picture. See the fine little cracks all over the cookie in the middle? That's the sign of a perfect cookie. The undercooked cookie only has the cracks around the perimeter. Wait to pull the cookies out of the oven until you see those fine cracks in the center. If you wait until the cookie changes color, you've waited too long.
Mistake #4: Frosting A perfectly good sugar cookie can be ruined by bad frosting. The recipe below is my absolute favorite, but here's some advice: spend enough time whipping the butter and sugar together to get a light, fluffy texture. If you're using a stand mixer, set the speed on high and walk away for about 3-5 minutes minutes. If you're using a hand mixer, get comfortable and play a couple of favorite songs on your iPod. The result will be worth it.
Mistake #5: Coloring Now that you've got a great cookie and frosting, it can be messed up with food coloring. Remember, a little can go a long way, so start small—a drop at a time will do. But just in case you mess up (as we all do), use this helpful tip: before you add coloring, reserve a small bowl of un-colored frosting. This can help you undo what is otherwise undoable if you get too much color in.