Long before we were on a first name basis with Martha, there was this recipe for sugar cookies, passed down from a friend. It's Xeroxed from an ancient cookbook, maybe "Joy of Cooking," very old school. You don't want to see the recipe; the paper's tattered and covered with the remains of more than a few batches of pink stars.
For the past 15 years, these instructions (we've tinkered some) have churned out fool-proof sugar cookies. No perfect royal icing, and the shapes don't stay exact when you bake them, but damn, they taste good.
1 1/2 cups flour (with more for rolling at the end)
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 T. milk
Mix (it says sift, but who has a sifter?) 1 1/2 c. flour with baking powder and salt. In separate bowl, cream butter until soft. Beat in sugar, egg, vanilla and cream. Stir in flour mixture. Add enough remaining flour to make dough stiff enough to roll out. Refrigerate until well-chilled. Place on lightly floured board or countertop; roll and cut with cookie cutters. Place on ungreased baking sheet (we prefer a Silpat mat or parchment paper) and bake 8 to 10 minutes in oven preheated to 350 degrees.
Now for the icing.
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We make the simplest possible icing, mixing powdered sugar and water til we've got the right consistency -- you might like your icing runnier than we do, so experiment. Mix in food coloring if you like. A couple drops will get you the perfect shade of pink. Make sure the cookies are completely cooled before icing.
-- Amy Silverman