Cookies adapted from a recipe by Tasha Tudor, by way of my mom, Susan Anderson
Frosting adapted from a recipe by my aunt, Janet Schoen
Makes about 5 dozen small to medium-sized cut-outs (about 3 to 4 inches high/wide)
For the cookies:
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 sticks butter, room temperature
2 sticks margarine, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
3 Tbl milk
1 Tbl vanilla
For the frosting:
1/3 cup margarine, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbl milk, more if needed
various shades of food coloring
colored sugars, sprinkles and other edible decorations (optional)
To make the cookies:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Reserve.
Combine the butter, margarine and sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. (You can also use a hand-held electric mixer.) Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle, as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time and, and beating until combined, after each addition. Add the milk and vanilla and beat to combine. Scrape again with the rubber spatula. With the mixer running at low speed, gradually add the flour mixture. Continue to mix just until a soft dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and give one last stir to combine.
Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and shape into a flat, circular disk, about 2-inches thick. Wrap in plastic, then refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours, or up to 2 days.
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F and arrange the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured work surface, and knead it a few times until smooth and not sticky. Divide the dough into four even portions, then shape these portions into balls. Working one at a time, place each ball on a large sheet of parchment paper, and roll with a rolling pin to a thickness of about 1/4-inch. Transfer by the parchment paper to a cookie pan, then refrigerate about 10 to 15 minutes. (This step of rolling on parchment then refrigerating is not necessary, but it really helps to get nice, sharp cookies edges, lending a much better shape to the cookies overall.)
Transfer the chilled, rolled dough by its parchment paper, from the cookie pan back to the countertop. Using variously shaped cookie cutters (I used a Christmas light shape, about 3-inches high), cut out the shapes from the sheet of dough. Using a thin metal spatula, transfer the cut dough to the cookie pan, spacing the cookies about 1-inch apart. When the pan is filled with cookies, refrigerate until ready to place in the oven. Repeat with the remaining portions of dough. Roll together the dough scraps to a 1/4-inch thickness, and continue cutting cookies until all the dough is used.
Bake, two pans at a time, until set and lightly golden around the edges, about 8 to 10 minutes. Be sure to rotate the pans (switch their positions and turn each 180 degrees) half-way through cooking time. Allow the cookies to cool on the pans for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooking rack with a metal spatula. Cool to room temperature.
To make the frosting:
Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. (You can also use an electric hand-held mixer.) Whisk on medium-high speed until well combined, smooth, and spreadable. If the frosting appears too thick or dry, add more milk, one teaspoon at a time until you achieve a nice, spreadable consistency.
Divide the frosting in to separate bowls – the number of which, and the amount of frosting in each, will depend completely on you and how you want to decorate your cookies.
For the best looking frosted results, transfer the colored frosting to pastry bag fitted with a small round piping tip. Pipe a border evenly around the space you want to frost, then fill the interior with a quick zigzag of more frosting. Smooth out the surface with a small off-set spatula. Immediately decorate with the colored sprinkles, sugars (like I did) or other decorations, before the frosting has time to harden. Allow the frosted, decorated cookies to stand at room temperature until the frosting is well set, about 1 hour. Then keep at room temperature, arranged in a single layer, covered with plastic wrap or in an air-tight container. Will keep up to 5 or so days, but are best eaten earlier rather than later.