Kathleen's Sugar Cookies: 'The best sugar cookie I've ever baked'

Anne Byrn
Between the Layers
Sugar cookies, still naked.

This is an excerpt of a story from Nashville cookbook author Anne Byrn's blog, "Between the Layers." More about Byrn here. Subscribe to her blog here.

This is part of Southern Kitchen's 12 Days of Cookies and Cocktails series, which runs daily through Christmas Eve. Each day, we'll pair fun and festive cocktails with classic cookie recipes. These sugar cookies would be lovely with Biltmore Estate's wassail with bourbon and walnut bitters. Get the recipe.

When my children were little, we would decorate sugar cookies any chance we got. It was an art project, but you could eat it.

The drill went something like this: I draped the kitchen floor with an old sheet. With a little advance planning, I made the dough the night before and pulled it from the fridge to warm a bit before rolling out.

Then we gathered up all the sugar sprinkles on a tray, our favorite cookie cutters from the kitchen cabinet, and I whisked an egg white for the "glue" needed to stick the sprinkles to the cookies.

More:The simple magic of pecan pie, and how a recipe stirs up memories

The holidays were more festive because of these decorated cookies named after my older daughter Kathleen. She and her bossy self took ownership of the recipe and instructed her two younger siblings how best to decorate them. And she turned out to be an art major in college, so I guess the cookies were good practice!

It was a wonderful, messy sugar fest, and after it was over and done I took the sheet outside and shook it in the wind.

Glad the memories didn’t fly away…

What I love about cookies is that they are ageless and timeless

When I researched my book American Cookie, I learned that just like cake baking in our country’s history, cookies have evolved through the centuries.

They have been shaped and formed by the people who made them. And they drew their identity from the ingredients or special tools needed to make them.

But unlike cake, cookies didn’t require high-level culinary experience or expensive ingredients. They have been simple to bake from the beginning of time. They serve a lot of people, especially children. And they take to substitutions easily, so when times were tight, you could swap in the margarine instead of the butter. And my mother recalled sugar cookies served at Christmas because they were special, especially in those war years when precious sugar was saved for holiday baking.

Want more? Read the rest on "Between the Layers."

Kathleen’s Sugar Cookies

A recipe like this is made for a cookie swap, but I will warn you that everyone may gravitate to your decorated cookies! I love cookie swaps because of the variety. You show up with one kind of cookie and go home with eight to 10 more.

Makes: About 5 dozen cookies

Prep: 10 to 15 minutes to make the dough, plus 1 hour for decorating

Chill: At least an hour, or overnight

Bake: 10 to 12 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 large egg white, lightly beaten with a fork

Colored sugars of your choice

Instructions

Make the cookie dough: Place the butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl and using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well. Beat in the flour on low speed until just combined. Cover the bowl and chill at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or leave it ungreased.

Working with a quarter of the dough at a time, roll it out on a floured surface to about 1/8-inch thickness. Keep the remaining dough refrigerated. Cut with cookie cutters dipped in flour and transfer cookies carefully to the baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart.

Decorate the cookies: If you are using colored sugars, brush the cookies with a little egg white before sprinkling on the colored sugars. If there is room, place the cookie sheet in the fridge for a few minutes for the cookies to get nice and cold before they bake.

Bake the cookies until they are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool on them for 1 minute. Then, using a spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.

Once the cookies are cool, place in tins, lined with parchment or waxed paper. Place the lids on the tins. Left tightly covered, the cookies stay crisp for up to a week.