Fall cut-out cookies.

My colleague Grace has mad baking skills and comes from an impressive line of bakers. So when we finally got a dose of baking weather recently (it’s been a long, hot summer well into October), she brought a batch of iced cutout cookies into the office. It inspired me to get the oven cranking in my kitchen. And I had a specific sugar cookie recipe in mind. But first, a bit of backstory:

Last fall, Rob, Wrigley and I road-tripped to Washington DC, where we stayed at a lovely hotel near Dupont Circle. Because we didn’t want to leave our hairy friend in the room while we went out for dinner, we stopped in at the aptly named Marvelous Market for provisions for an in-room picnic. A package of sugar-topped, leaf-shaped cutout cookies caught my eye, and they were as delicious as they were pretty. I loved the colors of the decor sugars, and loved the crunch. They inspired me to dig out this favorite recipe for rolled sugar cookies.

rolled sugar cookies

(adapted, barely, from Rose’s Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy Beranbaum; my copy is inscribed with a note from my mother, dated July 24, 1993: “Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a Christmas cookie book in July?”)

12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest (this makes the recipe!)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (use the good stuff)
2 1/4 cups flour (dip the measuring cup into your flour container and level with a spatula)
1/4 tsp. salt

In a stand mixer (or, if using a hand mixer, in a large bowl) cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (this will take more or less time depending on how soft the butter is). Add egg, lemon zest and vanilla extract, and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Carefully add to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until well blended.

Divide the dough in half and turn tout onto a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap well and shape into two thick, flat discs. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, no longer than 3.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove one half of dough from refrigerator; place on a well-floured pastry cloth or counter and roll to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into shapes. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies begin to brown slightly around the edges. Or, just bake cookies, let cool and decorate with icing.

For fall leaf cookies: Whisk one egg white in a small bowl.  In another small bowl, mix together 2 Tbsp. each of red and orange decor sugar and add a dash of green sugar. In a third bowl, mix 2 Tbsp. each of green and yellow decor sugar. Before baking, brush cookies very lightly with egg white and sprinkle generously with sugar blend.