Courtesy Clarkson Potter
• 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
• 1 teaspoon baking powder coarse salt
• 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
• 2 cups sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• For Royal Icing:
• 1 cup water, plus more if needed
• ½ cup meringue powder
• 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
• Gel-paste food coloring in Red Red, Royal Blue, and Navy Blue [/ingredient list]
Make the cookies: Sift flour, baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt into a large bowl.
Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, then vanilla. Refrigerate dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour. (Cookie dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month; thaw before using.)
Preheat oven to 325°. Roll out dough to a scant ¼-inch thickness on a floured surface. Cut out cookies using a 1¾-, 2¼-, 2¾-, or 3½-inch round cookie cutter, rerolling scraps once. Transfer to a baking sheet. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
Bake until edges just start to brown, 17 to 19 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack, and let cool completely.
Decorate the cookies: Place each colored icing in a separate plastic squeeze bottle (available at baking and craft supply stores); cut a small hole at tip for white icing, and very small holes for red and blue. Pipe an outline of white icing around edge of one cookie, leaving a ¼-inch border, then “flood” with more white icing to cover. Immediately pipe a red or blue dot in the center of cookie. Then pipe concentric rings of colors around the center dot (using the same color as the dot, or alternating colors).
Working quickly, drag a toothpick through the colors to create bursts, starting from the center dot and working toward the edge, then alternate dragging inward and outward as you work around the cookie. (Or drag around the cookie in one direction or curve the lines for a pinwheel effect.) Let dry. Repeat with remaining cookies and icings. Decorated cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.
To make Royal Icing: Whisk the water and meringue powder with a mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Add sugar, and mix until icing holds a ribbon-like trail on the surface for 5 seconds when beater is raised..
Transfer two-thirds of the white icing to the squeeze bottle with the larger hole or to the pastry bag fitted with the larger tip. Divide remaining icing in half, and tint one half using red food coloring and the other half using both blue food colorings until desired colors are achieved
Transfer red and blue icings to the remaining squeeze bottles or the pastry bags fitted with the smaller tips. Icing can be refrigerated in an airtight container (with a damp paper towel covering the surface) for up to 1 week.
Iced sugar cookies occupy a well-deserved spot in the American cookie jar. Their rolled-and-cut-out profile offers a blank canvas on which to decorate shapes for nearly any occasion, any time of year. I have a huge variety of cookie cutters and am forever adding new shapes from cookware stores, catalogs, or antiques shops. Even so, I sometimes make my own cookie shapes by cutting out cardboard forms, then cutting cookie dough around them. Because the dough calls for basic pantry ingredients and comes together quickly, it’s a home baker’s dream. Chilling (first after mixing, then again after cutting into shapes) is essential, as it leads to easier rolling and cutting, and helps the dough retain its shape as it bakes. The cookies are just plain wonderful—and simplest—when sprinkled with colorful sanding sugars before or after baking. But they become truly spectacular when given the royal-icing treatment, such as patriotic red-white-and-blue bursts— achieved with a squeeze bottle and a toothpick—that adorn the Fourth of July ones shown here. Of course, the cookies can be cut into shapes other than round, and decorated to suit other holidays or special occasions—or your personal whim.
Reprinted from the book Martha’s American Food by Martha Stewart. Copyright © 2012 by Martha Stewart. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.