“The best part for me was decorating the cookies, except eating them, of course.” — Christopher, recipe tester, age 8
For the cookies: In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In small bowl, whisk together egg and vanilla.
Add sugar to food processor and lock lid into place. Turn on processor and process until sugar is finely ground, about 30 seconds.
Stop processor and remove lid. Add chilled butter to processor and lock lid back into place. Turn on processor and process until smooth, about 30 seconds.
Stop processor and remove lid. Add egg mixture and flour mixture and lock lid back into place. Turn on processor and process until no dry flour is visible and mixture forms crumbly dough, about 30 seconds.
Stop processor, remove lid, and carefully remove processor blade (ask an adult for help). Use rubber spatula to transfer dough to center of large sheet of parchment paper on counter.
Use your hands to pat dough into 7-by-9-inch oval. Place second large sheet of parchment on top of dough. Use rolling pin to roll dough into 10-by-14-inch oval (⅛ to ¼ inch thick), rolling dough between parchment.
Slide dough (still between parchment) onto 1 baking sheet. Place baking sheet in refrigerator and refrigerate until dough is firm, at least 1½ hours.
While dough is chilling, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Line second baking sheet with parchment.
When dough is ready, remove dough from refrigerator. Gently peel off top sheet of parchment. Use cookie cutters to cut dough into shapes.
Use spatula to transfer shapes to parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced about ½ inch apart. (If dough becomes too warm and sticky to transfer shapes easily, return it to refrigerator to firm up again, about 10 minutes.)
Place baking sheet in oven. Bake cookies until beginning to brown around edges, 18 to 22 minutes.
Use oven mitts to remove baking sheet from oven (ask an adult for help). Place baking sheet on cooling rack and let cookies cool completely on baking sheet, about 30 minutes.
For the glaze: While cookies are cooling, in second medium bowl, combine confectioners’ sugar, milk, softened cream cheese, and 1 to 2 drops food coloring (if using). Use clean rubber spatula to stir until very smooth.
You can use food coloring to turn white glaze into a rainbow of colors! If you have red, yellow, and blue food coloring, a whole world of colors can be yours. Red, yellow, and blue are primary colors. You can mix them in different combinations to make secondary colors.
Red + Yellow = Orange
Red + Blue = Purple
Yellow + Blue = Green
Here are two tips:
Play around with how many drops of each color you add. What happens if you add 2 drops of red and 1 of yellow? What about 1 red and 2 yellow? Start by mixing just 1 or 2 drops of each color into your glaze. If you want a deeper color, you can add more, a drop at a time.
To make more than one glaze color, divide the glaze among several bowls and add desired food coloring to each individual bowl.
Making dough for cut-out cookies can be tricky. The dough needs to be soft enough to roll out but not so soft that it sticks to the counter or your shapes turn to blobs in the oven.
Most sugar cookie recipes use a mixer to “cream” room-temperature butter and sugar before adding the other ingredients. All that mixing makes the dough warm and sticky, so you need to refrigerate it before you roll it out. But rolling out cold cookie dough is tough!
In this recipe, we use a special technique called plasticizing the butter. Plasticizing means making cold butter soft and moldable, while still keeping it cold. How do you plasticize? In this recipe, we use the food processor! The food processor lets us combine the sugar and the cold butter in just 30 seconds because the processor blade spins so fast. It creates a cold, bendable, and shapeable paste (like plastic!) that’s a cinch to roll out, straight from the food processor. No arm workout required!
Plasticizing the butter means you don’t need to refrigerate the dough before you roll it out. Instead, you refrigerate the dough AFTER you finish rolling. That time in the fridge firms up the dough, which lets you make clean cuts with your cookie cutters and helps the cookies keep their shapes as they bake.