Recipe: Sugar Cookies with Hand-Colored Sugar Sprinkles

I made these cookies as a gift for my boyfriend, who just celebrated his 23rd birthday a little less than a week ago. I was really bummed out that I didn’t get to celebrate his birthday with him in person, so I wanted to make sure he got a great birthday package, full of goodies, in the mail. Along with my little collection of fun, geeky gifts from ThinkGeek.com, I wanted to include something that was a little more personal. Being the chef-wannabe that I am, I thought I’d make him homemade cookies, with some sort of handmade decorations. I sent him a surprise care package earlier this summer with chocolate chip cookies, so I wanted to make something new. He’d mentioned once that his family makes sugar cookies around Christmas time, so I found a recipe in The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Cookies that looked just right. The result of my baking efforts: lightly golden-brown cookies cut into star and heart shapes, generously sprinkled with rainbow-colored sugar. Girly and reminiscent of a bowl of Lucky Charms? Yes. Delicious? Indeed. Appreciated by my boyfriend? I sure hope so. ;D

Yields: Approx. 36 (depending on the size and type of cookie cutter you use, you’ll have more or less)
Prep. time: 10-15 minute prep., 30 minutes to chill cookie dough
Baking time: 10-12 minutes per sheet
Difficulty: Easy
Special equipment: Electric mixer

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Various colors of sanding sugar or (if you want to dye your own, which is pretty fun—directions listed below) white/clear sanding sugar and food coloring (red, yellow, and blue)

Directions
Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and nutmeg into a small bowl, then set aside. With a mixer, blend together the butter/margarine, sugar (not the sanding sugar), and vanilla extract until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well into the mixture. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk (one and then the other, back and forth) to make a soft, semi-sticky dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350*F. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface (keep the flour around, because you’ll likely need to add more to the surface to keep the dough from sticking to it). Roll it to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into rounds or other shapes using floured cookie cutters. Transfer cut cookies to ungreased baking sheets.

To make the colored sugar: Place a piece of wax paper on a flat surface a put a small pile of sanding sugar on the paper (not too much sugar…just a few tablespoons…you can always make more if you find that the cookies don’t have enough sugar topping). Add one drop of food coloring to the sugar and smooth a rubber spatula over and through the sugar, blending the color into the sugar. The color should be light and even throughout the sugar—you want to avoid clumps of sugar that are dark and coated with too much food coloring. If you want a darker color, add more food coloring, but only one drop at a time, and only after blending that drop into the sugar. Repeat the process with fresh sanding sugar and the colors of your choice (for color mixtures, like red and yellow to make orange, add one drop of each color to the sugar and blend and repeat with one drop each if you want a deeper color). Once all of your sugar is dyed, spread it out on the wax paper and let it dry for a few minutes. Pour the dried sugar in a small bowl and stir with a spoon to mix.

Sprinkle the colored sugar onto the cookies on the cooking sheet, then bake the cookies in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Hand-dyed sugar

These cookies are light, with that perfect soft-yet-crunchy texture. The nutmeg adds a hint of warmth and the cookies are perfect with a glass of milk or a cup of hot tea or coffee. The easy-to-make colored sugar is a great alternative to icing/frosting (which, in my case, could easily have smeared and smushed on the cookies on their trip through the mail). The cookies are delicious, pretty, and perfect for a birthday gift, Christmas cookie platter, or just to have around the house for a sweet snack.

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