My Favorite Sugar Cookies

from melskitchencafe.com

*Note: the baking temperature for this recipe may seem high but I believe it is one of the keys to success. The cookies still remain soft and light because they bake for such a short time (and they keep their shape really well!).

*Makes 2-3 dozen sugar cookies (about 2-3 inch size)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened to cool room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup powdered sugar

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)

5 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract, almond extract and lemon zest; mix. Add two cups flour, baking powder and salt. Mix. Add remaining flour and mix just until flour is incorporated and the dough is smooth and soft.

The dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week or it can be rolled out right away. Dust a counter with powdered sugar or flour and roll the dough to desired thickness (I prefer my cookies on the thick side so I roll my dough out to about 1/4-inch, maybe even slightly thicker than that). Cut the dough into shapes. Place the cookies on a lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 7-8 minutes. The cookies won't appear browned on top (or on bottom) when they are done baking so don't let them overbake! I find 7 1/2 minutes is about perfect but if they are even lightly browned on bottom, I decrease the time by 30 seconds. I like them super soft with not even a hint of browned edges or bottom. This way they literally melt in my mouth.

Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack before frosting. The baked cookies (unfrosted) can be stored in a tupperware or ziploc bag in the freezer for up to a month. I also often freeze 1/2 of the sugar cookie dough when I don't have time or don't want to roll it out and cut shapes. I wrap the dough in plastic wrap and then stick it in a freezer-safe ziploc bag and freeze it for up to a month. I take it out the night before I want to roll it out and store it in the refrigerator to thaw (for about 12-15 hours). About 30 minutes before I want to use it, I let it sit on the counter to soften a bit and then I roll it out and cut out the cookies.

Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

*Note: the key to success here is using really soft cream cheese and beating it with the powdered sugar until no lumps remain.

*Makes about 4 cups of frosting

1 (8 oz.) block cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

In a large bowl, combine the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, salt and vanilla. Mix until very smooth and light and no lumps remain. In a separate bowl, beat the cream to stiff peaks. Add the whipped cream to the cream cheese mixture. Mix until well combined and smooth. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.