For the past twenty or so years, come Christmas-time my family has pulled out the same sugar cookie recipe: written on the back of a friend’s Christmas letter in purple crayon.
Sugar cookies, of course, aren’t limited to the holiday season. I remember well the summer after 7th grade when my family moved from Dallas to Saint Louis. A June move meant several long months before any good opportunity to make new friends would arise. Thus I insisted the siblings hold a dessert making competition, judged both on creativity and taste.
I made a cherry cobbler that I intended to top with sugar cookie letters (it looked beautiful in my mind, though I can’t remember what it was supposed to spell). I poured all of the ingredients listed in purple crayon into a bowl and mixed them together, disappointed when it became more of a crumbly mass than anything resembling a dough.
I’ve never since forgotten the importance of the various mixing methods.
Given the long history of this specific recipe, I felt a slight twinge of guilt when this year I decided to mix things up. However I was attending a cookie exchange between pastry folks, and so I wanted to present something a little more grown-up.
I’d say the revisions were well worth it.
If you’d like to keep this child-friendly, substitute vanilla extract and milk for the liquor. But I promise you, it’s the adult version that truly hits the spot.
These are great either formed into a log, rolled in cardamom sugar, and used as slice-and-bake, or rolled into a 1/4-inch sheet and punched out with cookie cutters. The former creates beautiful circular cookies with minimal waste, but the latter allows creativity in design.
cardamom sugar cookies with birch bourbon glaze
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cold
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Optional: 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cardamom for rolling
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon
1 teaspoon birch liqueur (ideally Bjork, though an amaro will work as well)
1. Cut the butter into small cubes and cream with sugar until light, fluffy, and doubled in size. This takes about 8 minutes on high speed. I prefer to cream butter from cold in a stand mixer. Though it takes a bit longer than softened butter, the friction created in the mixing process melts softened butter too much before the full volume is able to be reached. If you are using a hand mixer, then it will need to be a bit softer from the beginning.
2. Add the egg and incorporate on medium speed until completely emulsified.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cardamom, salt, and baking powder. Add to the butter, sugar, and egg mixture. Incorporate on low speed until it just begins to come together.
4. Pour the dough onto a clean countertop and work together with your hands. If you are making a log, form the dough into a cylinder 2 inches in diameter. If you plan to punch the cookies out, form into a block.
5. Optional: On a plate, mix together the sugar and cardamom. Roll the log of dough in this mixture until fully covered.
6. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 5 days.
7. When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325°F. Slice the log into 1/4-inch pieces or roll the block out 1/4-inch thick and punch with cookie cutters.
8. Bake for 14-16 minutes, until they just barely begin to brown around the edges. Let cool completely.
9. Mix together the powdered sugar and liquors or milk. Pour into a piping bag to pipe on cookies or glaze with a spoon. Decorate with sprinkles if desired.
In my family, we have a habit of freezing the completed cookies. While they could easily all be eaten before they go stale, somehow they are even tastier frozen!
Do be warned, the glaze packs quite a punch. You’ll definitely taste the alcohol, but the flavors meld so nicely with the cardamom and the sweet sugar, it’s well worth the bit of burn.
What are your favorite Christmas cookies? Do you have a recipe with a special story? Let us know in the comments below.
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