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Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

My daughter isn’t a big fan of the spice cookies or molasses softies that I make regularly, and my wife told me that my daughter wanted me to make sugar cookies. It’s been a long time since I have made sugar cookies, but I knew the recipe I wanted to make. Cookies that go by the name, sugar cookies, actually vary quite a bit, with many folks considering the cookies that are decorated with frosting as sugar cookies. To me, a sugar cookie is soft and delicate—much more delicate than the tough cookies one usually finds underneath a layer of frosting during the holidays. And, of course, the cookie must be sprinkled with sugar—why else would it be called a sugar cookie? Plus, unlike those other sugar cookies, these cookies are decorated before baking. Maybe that’s why these are called old fashioned? They certainly elicit memories from childhood.

An unexpected ingredient
This recipe is pretty simple, but one ingredient you might not anticipate is orange extract. The orange extract does a lot to add brightness and freshness, and tasters couldn’t quite put their finger on what the flavor was, though some tasters suggested hints of citrus when asked about flavor. When I told tasters that there was orange extract in the cookie beforehand, they could pick it out without too much difficulty. I think if you used real orange zest or splurged on the extract, the orange flavor might be too strong. A little goes a long way.

This is one of the few cookies I bake on silpat mats. I’ve had less than stellar results with most recipes, especially since most cookies I make call for ungreased cookie sheets. This recipe, however, is ideal for silpat since it calls for greased cookie sheets and the cookies are rather delicate.

How to tell when these cookies are done
Some of the darker cookies I make—molasses softies and spice cookies, for example—are difficult to tell doneness for because they don’t really brown. These cookies have the opposite problem because, although they are very light in color, you actually don’t want to brown them. Baking time can vary depending on how thick you make these cookies, but you want to remove them from the oven when you just think that the edges are maybe—just maybe—starting to look a little brown. My wife prefers her sugar cookies crispy and crunchy, so I made one sheet with more evident browning and they tasted a little odd: not burnt at all, but they weren’t as good.

I don’t make a lot of cutout cookies and thought rolling out the dough was going to be a pain, but with sufficient flour on the surface and rolling pin, it was pretty fun. The kids also enjoy decorating the cookies almost as much as eating them.

Ingredients for making Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies.

Add 3 eggs to 1 cup of room temperature butter and mix.

Add 1 teaspoon orange extract and 1 teaspoon vanilla to 1 1/2 cups sugar and mix until light and fluffy.

Mix together 2 teaspoons baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, pinch of salt and 3 3/4 cups of unbleached flour.

Slowly add the dry ingredients a little at a time while mixing on low.

Place fist-sized ball of dough onto generously floured surface and roll to 1/4 inch thickness.

Use cookie cutter to cut out desired shapes.

Place cookies on silpat mat or greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with colored sugar.

Bake cookies for 6-10 minutes (per thickness or size) in 350° F oven until just barely browned (less brown is better).

The recipe pictured above, with detailed instructions and complete photo gallery can be found on the Old Fashioned Sugar Cookie recipe page.

  • Sugar cookies are my all time favorite cookie. Simple is best and the most sugar the better. I am definitely trying your recipe come Christmas time.

  • Hi Cheryl, see if people can pick up on the orange without telling them it is there. These were super easy and fun to make.