Mark Bittman, author of "How to Bake Everything," shares a recipe for crowd-pleasing sugar cookies and tips for making them even better.
This is a versatile foundation recipe you can take in many directions. The dough is soft and easy to handle. Cutout shapes are a holiday staple, but slicing logs of dough is easier for everyday enjoyment.
Make rolled cookies to decorate with vanilla glaze or royal icing:
Shape the dough into a disk instead of logs, wrap tightly in plastic, and chill as directed. To bake, cut the dough disk in half. Lightly flour a work surface and a rolling pin, then roll out the dough gently until about 1/8 inch thick, adding flour as necessary and turning the dough to prevent sticking. Cut with any cookie cutter.
To dress up cookies with toppings:
Brush logs of chilled dough with egg white, then roll in any topping (like nuts, coconut, sprinkles, etc), or scoop balls of chilled dough and roll individually.
To drizzle sauce:
Dip a whisk, fork, or toothpick into a glaze or thin sauce and lightly drizzle over baked, cooled cookies.
To decorate with icing:
Use a pastry bag to draw designs on rolled cookies. Dye the icing or add sprinkles if you like.
To make sandwich cookies:
Spread the bottom of one cookie with frosting, sauce, or slightly softened ice cream or sorbet, then sandwich with another cookie.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy; add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, at least 2 minutes.2.
Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir just until a sandy dough forms. Form the dough into 2 logs about 2 inches in diameter, wrap tightly in plastic, and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.3.
To bake, heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Unwrap the dough and roll each log in coarse sugar to coat fully if you like. Cut the dough into 1/4 inch slices and put on ungreased baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake until the edges are starting to brown and centers are set, 6 to 8 minutes. The cookies will still be very soft and almost seem not quite done when you take them out of the oven; be careful not to overbake. Let sit for a minute on the sheets, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling. These will keep in an airtight container for a day or two.