Of all the months in a year, December seems to be our biggest month for baking. We bake pies, cakes, tarts, bread-puddings, and other decadent goodies. However, I would guess that the most popular treats for sharing would have to be cookies.

Barbie Butz e1682710966792
Barbie Butz is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email her at bbutz1@outlook.com

We organize cookie parties for adults to share their master pieces and share recipes, and we plan traditional cookie parties for our kids and grandkids. We even box them up and send them as gifts to friends and family out of the area. And who hasn’t taken a few festive cookies to a neighbor just to say “Merry Christmas.” Of course, you can’t forget a plate of cookies for that jolly old fella who comes down the chimney with all those gifts, and a ho, ho, ho!

Many years ago, I found this recipe in a magazine, for a versatile buttery sugar cookie dough that can be whipped up in minutes, and flavored, shaped, topped, or filled in multiple ways. I’ve included the variations to help make your cookies even more special. After you prepare the dough, let your own creative juices flow!   

Basic Cookie Dough

Ingredients:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Directions:

Beat butter, sugar, and salt with a heavy-duty stand mixer on medium-high or with a hand mixer on high, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat on medium until combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of bowl as needed. With the mixer running on low, add flour and baking powder to butter mixture, beating until just incorporated. Shape dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill until firm, at least 2 hours. Dough will keep in refrigerator tightly wrapped for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer up to 3 months.

Variations

Chocolate Cookie Dough:   

Substitute 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder for the 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour in the basic recipe.

Orange-or-Lemon-Scented Cookie Dough:

Whisk 1 tablespoon grated lemon or orange zest (or a combination) into flour before adding it to the butter mixture in the basic recipe.

Cinnamon or Spice Cookie Dough:

Whisk 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice into flour before adding it to butter mixture in basic recipe.

Gingerbread Cookie Dough:

Substitute 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1/4 cup unsulphured molasses for the 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar in the basic recipe. Whisk 1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger into flour before adding it to the butter mixture in the basic recipe. 

Caramel Cookie Cups

Ingredients:

Orange-Scented or Spiced Basic Cookie Dough

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons jarred caramel sauce or topping, plus more for drizzling

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon orange extract

1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

40 toasted pecan halves

Directions:

Prepare an Orange-scented or Spiced variation of Basic Cookie Dough.

Divide dough into 40 (1 tablespoon) balls (about 1/2 ounce each). Place 1 ball in each cup of 2 (24-cup) lightly greased miniature muffin pans. (You will fill only 40 cups). Using a teaspoon measure, press dough into bottom and up sides of muffin cups. Chill for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake in a preheated oven until cookies are dry to the touch and shape is set, about 10 minutes. Immediately press the cookies again with the teaspoon. Cool cookie cups in pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Transfer cookie cups to wire rack to cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat butter, cream cheese, and caramel sauce in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric stand mixer on medium or using a hand mixer on high, until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low with mixer running, gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Beat in vanilla extract and flaky salt. Transfer the filling to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip, and evenly pipe into cooled cookie cups. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon caramel sauce on each filled cookie cup. Sprinkle each cookie with desired amount of flaky sea salt, and to each with a toasted pecan half. 

Happy Holidays! 

Cheers!

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