It’s almost Valentine’s Day and what better way to tell someone you love them than to make something sweet for them. I have been making these sugar cookies for a long time now and they always make people smile. These lemon scented sugar cookies have shown up in all manner of shapes and colors at many birthday parties, camping trips, and in many care packages throughout the years. But Valentine’s Day is still my favorite occasion to bake them. The basic heart shape is simple to cut out and decorate but the cookies still look really beautiful. Anyone receiving one of these cookies will know how special they are.
Though most sugar cookies are flavored with vanilla extract, these cookies are accented with lemon. The lemon flavoring isn’t strong. It’s just enough to add a boost of bright flavor. I also don’t use royal icing that is so often used to decorate sugar cookies. Royal icing lets you make some amazing decorations but, frankly, I don’t like the taste of it. I also don’t have great piping skills and don’t have the patience to mix several colors of icing at different consistencies for piping and flooding. To simplify the decorating process, I mix a simple icing made from just confectioner’s sugar and milk. I make it just thick enough to hold its shape but still thin enough to spread. I keep the icing basic white and use different colored sugars to add color and sparkle to the cookies. The technique is called flocking where decorating sugar is sprinkled on an area of wet icing. The advantage of the flocking technique is that the sugar hides many icing flaws. So, those of us with less than perfect piping skills can still make really pretty cookies.
My other trick to making sugar cookies is having a small offset spatula on hand. It is the best tool for loosening the cookie cut-outs from your work surface and transferring them to the baking pan and for moving the baked cookies from the baking pan to the cooling rack. It’s also great for spreading icing on the cookies. You can usually get a small offset spatula for around $5 and it’s worth every penny.
I think my children and my nephews, who I usually make these cookies for, would start rioting if I ever stopped making these. Fortunately, I have no plans to stop anytime soon. I hope you can find time to make these for someone you love too. Happy Valentine’s!
For the cookies
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Zest of 2 small lemons (about 2 tablespoons)
- 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 4–5 tablespoons milk
- Sanding sugar or sugar sprinkles in your choice of color(s)
For the cookies
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in eggs until thoroughly combined.
- Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until well mixed. Add lemon juice and lemon zest; beat until lemon is mixed in well. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 2 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball, then flatten the balls into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 3 days.
- Heat oven to 325 degrees.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes. Transfer cookies to ungreased baking sheets and chill until firm, about 15 minutes. Gather up and reroll the scraps of dough and cut out more cookies. Repeat with the remaining dough disks. If dough becomes too soft to work with, refrigerate the dough until it is firm again.
- Bake cookies 9 to 12 minutes, or until edges of cookies just start to brown. Cool on wire racks then decorate as desired.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together confectioner’s sugar and 4 tablespoons of milk. The icing should be very thick at this point. Continue to whisk in more milk 1 teaspoon at a time until icing is just spreadable but is not runny. The icing should feel just a little stiff when you stir it.
- Pour icing into a pastry bag fitted with a small (Wilton #5) icing tip. Outline edge of cookie with icing; fill in the outline with more icing using zig-zag lines. Using a small offset spatula, spread icing until smooth. Sprinkle cookie liberally with sanding sugar, then pour excess sugar into a bowl. Repeat with remaining cookies. Let cookies sit in a single layer on a baking sheet or cooling rack for at least 8 hours to let the icing harden. Use a small pastry brush to brush away any stray sugar crystals, if desired.
- Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
To fill the pastry bag, place the bag tip side down in a tall glass. Fold the top of the bag down over the edge of the glass to form a cuff. Using a large rubber spatula, scrape the icing into the bag, filling it to one-half to two-thirds full. Unfold cuff, twisting the bag closed to force the icing down into the bag and remove any air bubbles. Secure the bag closed with a twist tie.
To prevent the tip from clogging while icing cookies, place a damp paper towel in the bottom of the glass.
To fix any wayward lines of icing and sugar, use the long edge of a toothpick to gently push the icing into place.
For faster decorating, just pipe zig-zag lines on cookies then sprinkle with sanding sugar.
Recipe from Martha Stewart Living.