Growing up, my mom had this sugar cookie recipe we used for cut-outs and a wonderful frosting she called Cooked Frosting. I used those recipes and those alone, no questions asked. Fast forward to sometime during the last 5 years since moving from Huntington Beach to Las Vegas after getting married, and amid various home improvements including two straight years of replacing the floors upstairs and downstairs, my cookie recipe got mangled. This was BAD! I’ve been on the hunt since then for the perfect recipe, and there are 10,000 out there to sort through. I started with the ones that used powdered sugar (okay, confectioners sugar…I’m from the midwest and it is powdered sugar to me), like Swig copy cat recipes. The problem is that any I made were not memorable! That’s a problem. If I made something I want it to be memorable. In other words, if it is a meh in my book, it doesn’t get made a second time.
This picture attests to the last time I used the beloved sugar cookie recipe from my childhood. It was my first Valentine’s day with my husband, who I was dating at the time, and not yet exclusive. Now, the question as to whether these cookies and heart individual cakes with the special Cooked Frosting were the reason we become exclusive, remains to be seen.
And the search continued…then a major break through!
I was at a math teacher conference in Palm Springs, getting my fill of Sherman’s dessert selection and Reuben sandwich, Norwegian style (no thousand island dressing, only yellow mustard–of course I can’t go without a CUSTOM order). While I was waiting to order, I was chatting with this delightful fellow food snob. Pardon me, but I own it, and we were commiserating on how we detest ordering anything out we felt we could have made better at home. We got on the topic of desserts, and somehow on BROWNED BUTTER! It hit me. DUH, use browned butter!!!
So this sat in my mind, filed in the back “as needed.” Life went on. As my mind got through teaching, got through Thanksgiving, vacation mode, and turned to planning for my annual Christmas Kick Off Dinner, my mind started to swirl around all the Christmas related to-do items I needed to accomplish. As soon as I remembered the annual cookie exchange a gal in my ward at church hosts, I thought, “Dang it, I am gonna bring sugar cookie cut outs this year, and I’m gonna use BROWNED BUTTER.” Never mind that lost original cookie recipe had nothing to do with browned butter. Ok, time to upgrade, and shift. Time to let that recipe from my childhood lie in the past. Time to move up and move on. Enough with the obsession to find a like recipe that used powdered sugar like I remembered using. And while I am at it, I might as well find one that has a tang I like. So I found a Taste of Home Recipe for White Velvet Cutouts. Ooooh, White Velvet, as my thoughts immediately went to Black Velvet by Alannah Myles, and images of me dancing all sultry like with the kitchen fridge door. Hot…but I digress. So then I’m thinking, “ya, but I don’t want a crispy cookie.” Not wanting to change it, I did a quick search on Pinterest and found this recipe. This was all coming full circle, and now all I needed to do was add my BROWNED BUTTER…and 4 dozen cookies for this exchange plus at least a dozen to keep. Ok, so I don’t work on a small scale basis…nor do I measure reliably… and I go a lot by feel and taste as I go when I cook or bake…I understand, this poses a problem for duplicating a recipe. I tried my best to write down any and all ways I strayed from the recipe to my best when in my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mode and it’s-get-this-done-now-or-never time crunch. I leave notes cards all over the place for various projects. Last week I made the recipe to confirm my measurements, and by golly, it worked! Woo hoo!
BROWNED BUTTER: adds a rich, toffee-esque, almost nutty, full bodied flavor to these cookies. No sweet cardboard here! Take my word for it…or don’t, and try a “regular” sugar cookie next to one of these babies. The difference in flavor will knock your socks off. The number of calls, texts, emails, FB posts to get this recipe after the cookie exchange surprised me, until I tried another sugar cookie. I knew these cookies were delicious, but until I had the side-by-side taste test with cookies I got from the exchange, I couldn’t fully grasp it.
I am the type of baker that needs to do things in stages. I’ve got multiple things to get done at any given time of the day, and any wasted time just sitting there waiting just doesn’t cut it. SO, if I bake a cake, cookies, whatever it may be, and it needs to have rest time somewhere from beginning to end, I usually break it up into multiple days if it’s during the week. For example, when I brown my butter and I need to chill it, in goes the pan I browned it in on a hot plate in the fridge, and I forget it until I have time to go to the next step. Fortunately, this works phenomenally for me and my browned butter. While one person may insist this is WAY too much work for extra flavor, I just want to say it is totally worth it and it is totally do-able if you break it down into phases. Browning and chilling the butter is phase one.
Phase One: Make the browned butter, and chill completely before using in the sugar cookie recipe.
Phase Two: using the browned butter and make the dough. Then pop the divided and wrapped dough into the fridge to chill, possibly overnight…one to two hours if it is a weekend and I can get other things done in the meantime.
Phase Three: Take out the dough and let it warm up a bit so it’s pliable while I do something else like make the frosting that will chill in the fridge until it has it’s turn. I also pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Phase Four: Get out the cookie sheets. Line them with parchment paper. Dust my work surface with flour. Roll the dough out to a beautiful 3/8 of an inch using this rolling pin or a couple spoon handles about that diameter on each side. Cut them and place them on the cookie sheet, spaced about 1/2 to 1 inch apart. These cookies should not spread. If they do, something went amiss. Pop two full cookie sheets into the over, and get the next two cookie sheets loaded. Set the timer for 12 minutes and sit my hiney down to breathe. It’s a well oiled machine if done right.
At this point, I chuck the phase mentality, and I adopt the “I better not forget the timer or go somewhere and burn these puppies so all my work goes down the tube” mentality and rest on the couch. Unfortunately, this is when I realize how tired I am, but the sheer will to not waste my efforts to this point trumps my will to stay parked on the couch.
Once the cookies rest on the cookie sheet until cool enough to handle, I will pick up the whole parchment paper and transfer the cookies to cool on my beloved, hand made–ahem, CUSTOM–wood cutting board. You can also put them in an airtight container if they have cooled enough until ready to frost.
I generally do NOT frost my cookies the same day I bake them. You can call this another phase, but I call this experience from melted dripping messy frosting because I am not patient if I try to wait.
Didn’t these turn out so adorable? I sure thought so. Here is the link to the frosting recipe and the sprinkles I used. I also used this mixed berry filling to add flavor and color to the frosting. If I need color I can use a fruit filling to get, as well as add to the flavor, you bet your bottom dollar I will pass up the food coloring!
I need to admit something. I LOVE the designs so many amazing cookie masters make with royal icing, but I CANNOT get myself to try it. I have confidence in my piping and design skills, but I LOVE thick, yummy, flavorful frosting, and royal icing just doesn’t do it for me.
How would you decorate these incredibly flavorful Browned Butter Cream Cheese Sugar Cookie Cut-Outs?.
The Last Sugar Cookie Recipe You Will Ever Need
Are you tired of boring, almost bland sugar cookies? Don’t even enjoy sugar cookies because they are almost like sweet cardboard? NOT these sugar cookies! There’s a slight tang from cream cheese, flavors pop with vanilla and almond extract, sweet and salty bring the best balance, and the secret ingredient: BROWNED BUTTER. You cannot go wrong with these cookies. I like mine with a crisp edge, and an aldente but not quite soft texture.
3/4 c. browned butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 c. cream cheese (1/2 of a 8 oz pkg)
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. salt
4 c. flour (reserve one cup as needed)
1) In a sauce pan on med heat, brown your butter. Watch the butter as it starts to froth up, and stir as needed. You will notice the froth will go down, and then start frothing again. By the 2nd froth/bubbling I have found this is about the time you want to stop browning the butter. Take the butter off the stove as you smell the nutty richness. Chill the browned butter until solid.
2) Let the browned butter and the cream cheese come up to room temperature.
3) Cream the browned butter, cream cheese, and sugar until fluffy in a stand mixer, or using a hand held mixer in a large bowl. You will see the color turn light and the mix becomes fluffy.
4) Add the egg, vanilla, almond extract, and salt. Scrap down the sides with a silicone spatula.
5) Add 3 cups of flour and mix. Scrape down the sides. Add the remaining flour in 1/4 cup increments as needed. You know the dough is ready when it comes to a ball and is clean away from the side of the bowl. Depending on the humidity and elevation, you will need to be vigilant in how much flour you add, and may not need the extra full cup. The dough is pretty stiff, but not crumbly to where the flour is not incorporated.
6) Split the dough into two equal parts. Wrap each dough section in cling wrap. Flatten into a rectangle, and chill in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, overnight if necessary. An alternative step at this point(or just intentionally make a double or triple batch), if you choose to make frozen dough disks (I use an ice cream scoop and flatten the round dough to a puck shape, line a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper, freeze on a cookie sheet, then place the pucks in a freezer safe ziploc bag to keep frozen sugar cookie dough on hand for in a pinch cookie hankerings–you can bake frozen, just watch the cookies because they may need extra time being baked from a frozen state).
7) When you are ready to roll out, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. You may need to let the dough warm up a bit on the counter, especially if it has been chilling overnight.
8) Lightly flour the surface, then roll out your dough to 3/8 inch for thick cookies. If you prefer thinner cookies, adjust the bake time down. Cut out your dough, and place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Space them at least a half inch apart. The cookies should not spread. If you want to sprinkle sanding sugar on the cookies and not frost them, do so before baking them. These are great cookies to eat without frosting, but I have an even better recipe for sugar cookies if you just want sanding sugar on them, but these work as well.
9) Bake for 9-11 min. If your cookies are thinner or small cut out, watch them at 7-9 min. A perfectly baked cookie will show golden patches on the bottom, but not dark brown or worse. Rest on the cookie sheet until cooled enough to move the parchment without damaging the cookies, and cool on a counter off the hot cookie sheet, or in a airtight container. If your first batch of cookies does not have the wonderfully crackled look on top, knead the rest of the dough before rolling out and baking.
10) Completely cool before frosting. Check out my Cooked Frosting, which I think beats any butter cream frosting on these cookies hands down!