Sugar Cookies

March 5, 2010 at 11:53 pm 66 comments


Sometimes, I really don’t feel like blogging.

I’ll be curled up in bed with a mug of warm cocoa, reading a magazine when I’ll realize it’s been a week. And that means it’s time for a new post. I won’t have any idea what to write about, won’t even feel like carefully crafting a sentence together in my head, but I’ll sit there and force my way through until I’ve produced a post. I tell myself it’s a commitment.

These days I can tell my parents get a little concerned about the stress the blog might be putting on me. My mom tells me that I should just blog as long as it makes me happy, and my dad inquires about the pressure I feel every week to maintain the blog. Sure, there is a bit of responsibility involved with 17 and Baking that wasn’t there back when I felt certain of its anonymity, but there definitely isn’t anxiety.

17 and Baking truly makes me happier than anything else, and it’s a commitment, but it’s one I struggle through with pleasure.


So on those days when I’m not in the mood to be productive, I brainstorm. I look at the photographs I’ve taken and try to transport myself there, think about what made me smile and what made me pensive while I was baking. I think about what kind of message I want to be sending, what sort of ties this week’s adventures in the kitchen have with my life.

In the end I always pull through. I manage to come up with an idea, even if I’ve been sitting before an empty page for hours. Despite my longing to be lazy, I edit photographs until I’m satisfied. When the post finally comes together, the fulfillment that steeps through me makes the entire process so, so worth it.

At this point, knowing that I’m not alone and that 17 and Baking has become more than just an afterthought, it’s become a responsibility which I genuinely look forward to every week. These days I have so many more ridiculous, spontaneous bursts of happiness that can’t be properly explained, where I smile at everyone and feel in love with everything. Every post, no matter how much of a challenge it might be to get down, is so worth it in the end.


A few weeks ago, I was approached to make 100 sugar cookies for a local art walk. The walk was meant to be a charity and most of the supplies and materials would be donated. Feeling generous, I agreed to make the cookies for 25% of what I would normally charge. I had no idea what I was getting into.

I made one batch of cookies, and was horrified to discover a couple things. The recipe only made 20 sugar cookies, so I would have to make it four more times, and I knew already that the cost of butter and sugar would far surpass the price I’d set. But even more frustrating was the fact that those 20 cookies had taken me forever to roll out. The dough oscillated between soft and sticky and frozen stiff.

I was going to lose money, I didn’t have time to do my homework, and I was angry at myself for offering the discount and agreeing to do the project in general. I wanted to quit, but of course, I couldn’t. I dreaded the next 80 cookies.


The next day, I was in the kitchen longer than I was in school. I made batch after batch after batch and worked so smoothly I felt like a production line. Despite my annoyance, by the third batch I couldn’t help but notice that I was getting faster. I was starting to understand the way the dough worked, picking up tricks.

I discovered the perfect dusting of flour to keep the cookies soft without being sticky, and I learned the perfect temperature of butter to begin with. I’d roll out the cookies, put them in the freezer, and put them in just as another tray left the oven. It was the kind of efficiency that only time could arouse, and while the first few cookies hadn’t impressed me so much in the taste department, I found that each sheet produced more and more delicious cookies.

My mood couldn’t help but lighten a little. Even when I finished the fifth batch, only to discover I was 3 cookies short of the full 100, I didn’t grumble too much as I began the recipe for the sixth time. And when I was finally done, I packed them up and declared that I never wanted to make another sugar cookie again in my life. There was still a nearly-full batch of dough leftover, but I stuffed it into the freezer and forcibly ignored it.


Sunday night, a week after the sugar cookie nightmare project, my parents and I were slowly ending dinner. I left and went to check on the blog, refreshing the page to read any new comments. That’s when I squealed so loudly that I halted the clink of spoons and dinner conversation from the dining room.

I had been so convinced that I didn’t stand a chance in this year’s Weblog Awards that I hadn’t bothered to learn when the winners would be announced. So in that unguarded moment, I found out through a scattering of congratulatory comments that left me overwhelmed. Best weblog written by a teen? I was so startled and caught off guard that all I could do was shriek incoherently.

The feeling was sort of like an intense magnification of what I feel after publishing a new blog post – accomplishment, cheeriness, and awestruck wonder at how lucky I’ve been. And the first thing I did, after my dad rushed in to drink in the moment with me, giving me a big hug and dabbing my burning eyes with his sweater, was go into the kitchen and bake up that last batch of wonderful, beautiful, fantastic sugar cookies.


[PS: The second thing I did was send out emails thanking all the people I knew who had voted for me and spread the word – that includes you! Thank you so much for reading and for voting, I couldn’t have done it without you!]


I was a little skeptical with my first batch of cookies, but they really did get better and better each time I made them. And the best part? I’ll tell you everything I learned, so that you don’t have to make this recipe six times to get them right. The last ten cookies were soft and buttery, with slightly crisp edges. They’re sugary without being sugary-sweet, and the perfect canvas for your favorite frosting or glaze.

This dough comes together really easily, especially when the butter is slightly soft. I liked the cookies best rolled pretty thick, maybe 1/4″, as thicker cookies were easy to transfer onto a sheet and had a cakier texture. And while I needed a light dusting of flour to keep the dough from sticking, cookies rolled with less flour were more tender. Finally, to help the cookies keep their shape, I put ungreased trays of ready-to-bake cookies in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking.

I also tried making walnut sized balls of dough and baking them. They spread into neat little circles, and I topped them with a really simple, sweet frosting. The other cookies I iced with the easiest sugar cookie icing ever – it doesn’t contain light corn syrup, but it still dries hard and shiny.

Delicious Rolled Sugar Cookies
From RecipeZaar
Makes 20 3″ cookies

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract and the eggs one by one. Sift together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then gradually mix into the butter-sugar mixture until just blended. Flatten dough into a disk, cover in plastic wrap, and chill at least 30 minutes. The dough will also keep, frozen, for a week.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4″ thickness. Cut with a cookie cutter dipped in flour and transfer to ungreased baking trays with a wide spatula. Freeze cookie shapes for 15 minutes before baking to prevent spreading, then bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden. Cool on sheets for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

Sugar Cookie Frosting
From All Recipes

4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup shortening
5 tablespoons milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Food coloring

Cream the sugar and shortening until smooth and fluffy, then beat in the milk and vanilla until stiff, about 5 minutes. Color with food coloring if desired.

Sugar Cookie Icing

2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Food coloring, if desired

Stir sugar and milk together, adding food coloring if desired. Drizzle or pipe onto cookies.

Printer-Friendly Version – Delicious Rolled Sugar Cookies and Sugar Cookie Icing

Entry filed under: Cookies. Tags: , , .

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66 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Making my Mark  |  March 11, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    CONGRATS! I agree there is a sense of elation that can’t be matched when you persevere through a tough situation. At least it had a sweet ending. :)

  • 2. Pearl Joy  |  March 15, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    that looks so yummy, i am going to go bake it!

  • 3. Stacey  |  March 17, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Elissa – I absolutely love your blog. I’ve read every post, and love the way your writing has matured and developed as you have. I’m just getting around to trying your recipe the first time. Your ‘Crinkle Cookies’ sounded too good to pass up, and I just happened to have everything I needed. Anyways, I was hoping that maybe you could try a soup or more dinner type of recipe just once, or give me some suggestions, seeing as I have to make dinner for my family soon and have no idea what to make.

    Thank you and keep up the good work :)

    • 4. Elissa  |  March 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

      Stacey – I’m really touched, thank you :) I’ve been trying to decide for a while now whether to include more savory recipes, dinners, soups, etc. I figured that since I call myself “17 and Baking,” most of my readers probably wouldn’t want to see anything besides sugar, but maybe I ought to rethink that! I’ll let you know if I find a good dinner type recipe. :)

  • 5. Tanja  |  March 19, 2010 at 12:13 am

    I left you a gift on my blog :D

  • 6. Stacey  |  March 19, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I remember you mentioning that you consider yourself more of a baker than a chef, but the way you describe your parents make it seem like you have quite a good cooking influence. :)
    No hard feelings if you don’t, I was just curious. :)

  • 7. Susan  |  March 23, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I’m a big fan of your blog, recipes, photographs, and you! I made these sugar cookies over the weekend and love them. This is finally a sugar cookie with great taste! The frosting and glaze are great, too. Thanks for being in the blogosphere!

  • 8. jamieet  |  March 29, 2010 at 6:39 am

    Oh My Goodness!!!
    Your skills in making cookies are fantastic!!!
    I made cookies my self buy it was difficult to decorate the cookies.

  • 9. jenny  |  August 12, 2010 at 5:03 am

    Elissa, your blog is genuinely inspirational. I made these cookies a few days ago for a party and everyone loved *cough* were addicted to them. Thank you for sharing the recipe :]

  • 10. izmir escort  |  December 29, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Elissa, your blog is genuinely inspirational. I made these cookies a few days ago for a party and everyone loved *cough* were addicted to them. Thank you for sharing the recipe :]

  • 11. maggie  |  February 27, 2011 at 3:12 am

    HI elissa im a new reader of your blog, and i have to say is amazing:D im 16 and i bake a lot haha im from mexico and i loved your frostings recipe! i just have a little question, does the cookie icing dries hard and smooth like royal icing? :o

  • 12. Isabel Kitchen  |  May 15, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I understand what you mean when you say that your blog is a responsibility that you enjoy. My senior year of High School I was a member of the Dance Team. Yes, this meant early morning rehersals every Tuesday. I was always too tired to get up, too tired to stretch, but no matter what I always gave it my all. I love to Dance, and it is something that will always be a part of my life.

  • 13. Karen  |  September 22, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    My Great-Grandmother was an excellent seamstress and even a tailor. When she was teaching one of her children or grandchildren something and they would complain that theirs weren’t turning out well, she would just calmly say, “Oh, it’s ok dear. It’s just the first hundred that are the hardest.” Which is mighty discouraging to hear when you are in the thick of it, but it really is true. Once you’ve got that first hundred under your belt, though, you’re golden…I guess you know that, too!

  • 14. pasta trafilata al bronzo  |  May 30, 2014 at 6:17 am

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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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