Enjoying the Sweetness of the Season: Sugar Cookies
Since Christmas is only three days away, I wanted to share my sugar cookie recipe. I don't like gifting nicknacks or other stuff that people don't need, so I like to bake and give away plates of cookies for Christmas. It's inexpensive, only takes an afternoon, and who would turn down a plate of sugar cookies! I make 12-14 dozen sugar cookies every holiday season! First the recipe, and then I'll explain why making cookies each year is important to me.
These cookies are pretty straight forward, and the dough DOES NOT need to be chilled before rolling it out. One batch yields about 3 dozen cookies.
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Combine the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and mix until fluffy. I never remember to do this, but try to remember to pull the butter out of the fridge in advance so it can soften a bit. I don't worry about it too much.
2. Mix in the egg and vanilla extract.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Add the mixture slowly to the mixing bowl.
4. Here is where things get tricky. I always make a double batch, and a double batch is way too big for a my standard-sized Kitchen Aid. Eventually I have to dump the contents of the mixer on to the counter top and knead the rest of the dry ingredients into the dough. Single batches will fit in the mixer, but the bowl will be full and your mixer will sound like it's working hard.
5. Preheat the oven to 350. Start rolling out the dough and cutting out shapes.
6. Bake for 6 minutes for regular-sized cookies. For smaller ones, such as the three little ones I'm holding in the picture above, bake 4-5 minutes. Get the cookies off the baking sheet quickly so that they will not continue to bake on the hot sheet. The whole process of rolling out and cutting dough goes quickly. As soon as the cookies in the oven are done, you're ready to get the next sheet of cookies in.
For the frosting, I used to employ the haphazard method of mixing powdered sugar, butter, cream cheese, almond milk and vanilla extract until it tasted right; but my apartment is so cold that the butter curdles! So I looked around for an actual recipe, and I found an easy one that doesn't get as lumpy. I try to make the frosting while the kitchen is warm from the oven too so I can avoid lumpy frosting.
8 oz of cream cheese (softened)
1/2 cup of unsalted butter (softened)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
6-8 oz of powdered sugar
7. I have never ever sifted powdered sugar before using it, but I am so tired of lumpy frosting that I do sift the powdered sugar first so it's ready to go. If you purchase a 16 oz bag of powdered sugar, sift half of it. You might not use all of that.
8. Mix cream cheese and butter until smooth. Toss the vanilla extract in too.
9. Start adding the sifted powdered sugar a little at time. How much you use depends on how sweet you want the frosting to be! I prefer a tangier frosting with my sugar cookies, so I don't use the full 8 oz of powered sugar.
10. Frost and decorate the cookies!
11. Eat a cookie!
Why do I feel the need to bake 14 dozen sugar cookies every holiday season? I really love gift giving, and baking goodies is a great way to show someone you care. That's the easy reason. The big reason I bake so many cookies every year: I will not give up my Christmas traditions or fall into disordered eating under the guise of good health.
By the time my early morning lectures start, I've already been awake for a few hours (thank you long, early commute). So I usually bring a mid-morning snack to enjoy during the first lecture. One morning I stashed half of a cake doughnut in a container to enjoy with some fresh coffee from a nearby cart, and a classmate commented, "I see you're eating an American breakfast today." I tried to explain that my husband brought home a half dozen doughnuts two days ago, we love doughnuts, we got married in a doughnut shop. But the conversation devolved into this classmate telling me that Europeans only eat fruit for breakfast, and the Mediterranean diet is the most superior diet.
Welcome to naturopathic medical school, where you will be food shamed like never before.
It happens pretty often. People say things like "Oh, I don't eat that" or "I only eat this" while looking at what someone else brought for lunch. Many voices are willing to lecture you on why a particular diet is the best diet and many more will swiftly demonize sugar, gluten, corn, animal products, and other foods.
I feel like whatever I choose to eat at school becomes a public display, whether I like it or not. I cannot eat something simply to enjoy it. The pressure to prepare and consume nutritionally perfect meals and snacks can be a really overwhelming. It would be easy for me to start picking apart everything I'm eating and turning healthy food into an unhealthy obsession. "Orthorexia" is the unofficial term for being truly obsessed about maintaining the perfect, healthy diet. It happens, and I don't want it to happen to me. This is a topic I hope to dive into and explore more in the future.
Additionally, I'm not saying that people should keep eating McDonald's or bags of chips or guzzling sodas just because they enjoy it. Poor eating choices do result in negative health consequences. However, I feel like I should be safe to consume my half a doughnut and coffee in peace. It is not something I do every day (or even every month!) so I will enjoy every bit of fat, sugar and gluten it has to offer.
Ever since I could remember, the Christmas season always meant baking cookies, bars, breads and other yummies. My family did not always have a lot money for gifts, so my mom and I would bake and give away those goods to friends and family members. It is a tradition for me, a part of my food culture, rooted in giving. I will never let it go.
This is the sign from heaven that it is ok to make grandma's cookies or your banana bread or that super addictive fudge everyone loves. So what if it has a ton of sugar or dairy or whatever in it? Enjoy! Have the cake and eat it too. Just maybe not all in one sitting.