Even without the novel coronavirus pandemic, I am regularly home during the day with a toddler. And as anyone with a toddler — any child, actually — will tell you, there is a point where you are scraping the bottom of your Mary Poppins-sized bag of tricks.
You have sorted shoes by color and pair. You have read all the favorite picture books. If you sing one more round of B-I-N-G-O, you might lose your M-I-N-D. The herculean task of putting on socks, shoes and a jacket to get that little goober outside is one you’re saving for after naptime. And even though I welcome these 23 additional (genius) ideas, I’ve got another one to add.
Just take a deep breath. And bake. Assemble two sticks of butter, a cup of sugar, two eggs, dashes of vanilla extract, baking soda, milk and salt, a couple cups of flour and, blammo, you’ve got roll-out sugar cookies.
The recipe I use is my great-grandmother’s, but this isn’t a romanticized story about learning to bake at my grandmother’s apron strings. That grandmother’s most famous (infamous?) recipe in our family is grated potatoes mixed with ham and boiled in a cloth bag. Email me if you want to know more.
No, this recipe is about survival. And cookies.
The sound of the mixer is hypnotic to my child. She’ll clamber up on the counter and let out a “whoooooa” once the paddle starts creaming butter and sugar. They say a toddler’s attention span is 7 minutes long, but I swear this gets her for nearly 15. A large bowl and a wooden spoon can easily take the place of a mixer; they can even help stir.
For anyone with older kids, baking projects can break up the day, help with math, build confidence and skills, and provide a little bonding time. Honestly, taking 15 minutes to mix up cookie dough is restorative for anyone looking to find a little serenity — with or without kids. And again, at the end, there’s cookies.
Assemble potential toppings as the dough chills. Raid your cupboards for sprinkles, M&M’s, chocolate, peanut butter, or butterscotch chips. Feeling wild? Press in craisins or even dust with a cinnamon and sugar mix. Mix powdered sugar with a little milk, water or even lime juice for an incredibly easy icing, using food coloring if you’ve got it.
When it comes time to roll, let go of perfection. An inordinate amount of cookie dough will find its way into mouths. You might find dough smooshed into shirts, on floors or even in the kitchen rug. No cookie cutters? Use a plastic cup or glass. Round cookies taste just as good as any other shape. Press chocolate chips or sprinkles before baking and allow cookies to cool before icing.
Pour icing into shallow bowls to dip cookies easily or use spoons to drizzle the icing on.
If you’re alone or with older kids, mix up two batches of icing — adding more liquid to one, which can serve as “flood icing.” Use the thicker icing to draw borders and flood with the thinner icing. If you’ve got time to plan ahead, order squeeze bottles or piping bags online. If not, Ziploc bags with the corner snipped off and toothpicks can work just fine. Channel all those calming cookie-decorating videos you’ve watched on Instagram (just me?) and get as intricate as you want. Alternately, just dunk that cookie straight into the bowl of icing. Smiles all around, guaranteed.
Roll-out Sugar Cookies
1 cup shortening or unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons whole milk or whipping cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
Makes: about 24 cookies, depending on the size of your cookies
1. Mix butter and sugar together until fluffy. With mixer running, add eggs one at a time, adding the second after the first is fully incorporated. Add milk, salt, baking soda and vanilla. Mix on low speed until combined. With the mixer running, add 2 ½ cups of flour a half cup at a time.
2. Chill dough for at least one hour.
3. Once chilled and firm, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Roll out dough on a well-floured surface with the extra ½ cup of flour, replenishing as necessary. Cut out into desired shapes and bake for 10 minutes.
5. Cool, and decorate.
1 cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla (omit if using lime juice)
2 to 2 ½ tablespoons water, milk or lime juice
1. In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients until fully incorporated. If icing seems too runny, add a bit more powdered sugar, unless using for flood icing.