By Wolfgang Puck
Tribune Content Agency
Whenever I fly to Florida to spend a weekend on Home Shopping Network, Marian Getz - who joins me on-screen and previously worked as executive pastry chef at my Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe in Orlando - always greets me with a plate of freshly baked cookies.
The main reason she does this is that Marian and her husband, Greg, are kind, generous people. But Marian, a great baker, also knows that I have a real sweet tooth. I love to pop a few cookies into my mouth before I go on the air. Add a cup of espresso, and I'm all fired up and ready to cook and to talk with all the nice viewers who phone in.
I can't wait to see what Marian has waiting for me when I arrive in St. Petersburg for the weekend this coming Friday, Dec. 5. After all, we are into the holiday season now, and I've loved Christmas cookies ever since I was a boy back in the Austrian town of St. Veit.
How wonderful were the cookies my mother and grandmother would bake as Christmas approached! They made Linzer cookies with ground almonds or hazelnuts in the dough, fashioned into sandwiches with a little window cut in the top for a spoonful of raspberry jam to peek out; kipferl, crescent-shaped nut cookies dusted with powdered sugar; and spice cookies flavored with fresh and dried ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, and sweetened with rich dark molasses.
Our friends and family looked forward to packages filled with these treats, and my mother and grandmother generously obliged, starting baking in early December to fill gift box after box. Of course, my sisters, brother, and I enjoyed our fair share, too.
With all that variety coming from the oven, there was one more cookie that I always enjoyed, and it was the simplest of all: sugar cookies. In the world of baked goods, they were my palate-cleaner, resetting my taste buds to the simple pleasures you get from a combination of sugar, butter, egg, and flour, baked to golden-brown crispness.
I also liked the way sugar cookies became an arts-and-crafts project for us children on cold, dreary late-autumn and early-winter days. We got to pick out our favorite cutter shapes to stamp out our own cookies, decorating them with sugar crystals before baking. After the cookies had cooled, we'd decorate them with icing my mother made for us by stirring together 1 cup (250 ml) of confectioner's sugar with 4 to 5 teaspoons of milk, then dividing it into batches and adding drops of different food colorings.
Writing this makes me want to go make some sugar cookies right now. I hope you'll join in the fun and bake your own sweet holiday memories.
MY FAVORITE SUGAR COOKIES
Makes about 3 dozen
6 ounces (185 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm) pieces
1/2 cup (125 ml) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large cage-free egg, at room temperature
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus extra flour as needed
Colored sugar crystals, candy sprinkles or granulated sugar of your choice
Colored icings of your choice
Put the butter in a mixing bowl. Using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until it looks pale yellow and creamy, about 2 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Continue beating at medium speed until the mixture looks smoothly blended, about 1 minute longer. Stop again and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the egg and beat at low speed just until it is fully incorporated, about 15 seconds, taking care not to overbeat the mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
While beating at low speed, sprinkle in the flour, beating until it's fully incorporated. Scrape down the bowl once more and mix just until the dough looks smooth and evenly combined, about 15 seconds longer.
Gather up the dough with clean hands and place it on top of a large sheet of parchment paper. Place another sheet of parchment on top and, with a rolling pin roll out the dough between the sheets of parchment to a uniform thickness of 1/4 inch (6 mm).
Transfer the dough to the freezer, keeping it as flat as possible. Chill for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (175 degrees F). Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
When the dough has chilled, use some extra flour to lightly dust a smooth work surface large enough to hold the sheet of dough; sprinkle a small pile of flour on a flat plate nearby. Remove the dough from the freezer. Peel the parchment from 1 side and invert that side onto the floured surface; then, peel off the other sheet of parchment.
Using 1 or more sturdy cookie cutters in shapes of your choice, dip the cutting side of the cutter in the plate of flour and then press down firmly on the dough to cut out a cookie. Carefully transfer the cookie to the lined baking sheet. Continue cutting and transferring cookies, dusting the cutters as necessary.
Because it holds its shape in the oven, sugar cookies make a great cookie-cutter cookie. Dip the cookie-cutter in flour as needed. Once on the baking sheet, the cookies can be decorated with colored sugars or candy sprinkles or dusted with granulated sugar.
Bake the cookies, working in batches if necessary, until golden brown around their edges, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the trays once halfway through for more even baking.
When the cookies are done, slide the sheet of parchment with the cookies from the baking sheet onto one or more large wire racks to cool before you serve them, plain or decorated as you like.
(c) 2014 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
This article was printed in the December 14, 2014 - December 27, 2014