There’s a photo of me, about age five, at my grandma’s counter, sticking out my tongue in deep concentration while icing a rack of the cookies that inspired this version. Those cookies were versatile enough to suit any holiday that wasn’t really special enough to warrant it’s own unique treat. On Valentine’s Day, they were cut into hearts and iced pink; on Halloween, they became pumpkins and were frosted orange, with chocolate chips marking little jack-o-lantern eyes and mouths. Then there was the classic everyday variation: simple circles decorated with a swoosh of pastel-coloured frosting and maybe some rainbow sprinkles if you were really lucky. Many an elementary school class party was graced by the presence of these cookies.
While the originals were not quite as soft as these ones, they were still more tender than a traditional sugar cookie. This version is positively cakey, so long as you resist the temptation to bake them for longer. Their soft crumb is further accentuated by the cream cheese icing, a slight change from my grandma’s buttercream-style frosting, but one that still highlights the fact that iced cookies are always better than sugared ones.
Soft Sugar Cookies w/ Almond Icing
Inspired from Bessie Quirk
Makes ~3 dozen cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups white sugar
6 tbsp whole milk
5 cups all-purpose flour, measured correctly (yes, this is a lot of flour!) + more for dusting
5 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz (~½ brick) cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups icing sugar
3 tbsp whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp almond extract
Food colouring, as desired to dye
Sprinkles, to garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Start on the cookie dough by creaming the butter, sugar, eggs, and milk together using beaters or a stand mixer (if using the latter, do with the paddle attachment) until fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, using beaters or a stand mixer set to the lowest setting, until just combined. Liberally flour a clean work surface and rolling pin. Roll out the dough (in batches if easier) to roughly ½-inch thickness, then cut as many pieces as possible using your preferred cookie cutter(s). You can gather and re-roll the scraps once from each batch, but after that it will start to become too “handled” and should not be re-rolled. Set the cookies on a large, lined baking sheet, spaced 2 inches apart (you’ll likely need to bake in batches!). Bake in the centre of the oven for 8 minutes, turning once from back-to-front halfway through. The bottoms should be very pale – this is what keeps the cookies soft and plump. Even cooking them 1-2 minutes over can make them crunchier than ideal. Let the cookies cool for 10 minutes before transferring to cooling racks. Let cool completely while you make the icing (don’t you dare ice them warm!).
Using electric beaters or a stand mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Gradually beat in the remaining ingredients (using the wet ingredients to help temper the inevitable *poof* of icing sugar that will rise up) until smooth and incorporated. To make ombre cookies or some other twee thing involving multiple icing colours, divide up the icing into the number of colours you’re aiming for (I did 4). Add food colouring as desired. Keep in mind that icing tends to deepen in colour with time, so if you want the colouring to be more intense, perhaps wait a few hours before adding more dye. To ice the cookies in a circular pattern, spread a small dollop of icing onto the centre of a cookie using a small spoon. Keep using the spoon to spread the icing outwards in a concentric motion, leaving a small border around the edge. Garnish with sprinkles as desired. Squeal in delight.
P.S. Unlike most cookies, these cookies are still delicious for a day or 2 after baking. Plus the icing sets, making them stackable!