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Cutout Sugar Cookies

From Martha Stewart Baking Handbook
(This is the full recipe--I usually halve it.)

4 sticks (1 pound unsalted butter), room temperature
3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Colored sanding sugar or sprinkles for decorating (optional)
Royal Icing (recipe follows; optional)

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, vanilla and salt; mix on medium-high speed until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour in two batches, mixing until just incorporated.
2. Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface. Divide in half, and pat into flattened rectangles; wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to a week.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured Work surface, roll out one rectangle of dough to a scant 1/4-inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes. Using a smal offset spatula, transfer shapes to prepared sheets, placing about 2 inches apart. Chill in freezer or refrigerator until firm, about 15 minutes. Set scraps aside. Repeat process with remaining rectangle of dough. Gather all the scraps, and roll out again. Chill 15 minutes; cut out more shapes and place on sheets.
4. Decorate cookies with sanding sugar or sprinkles, if using, before baking. Bake rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden around the edges and slightly firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate with royal icing, if using. Top icing with sanding sugar or sprinkles, if using. Cookies can be kept in an airtight container, layered between sheets of waxed or parchment paper, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

(This way makes about 3 dozen for a full recipe. I usually roll mine thinner than 1/4-inch thick, so I get about 6 dozen thin crispy cookies out of a full recipe. I also lower my baking time to 11-13 minutes for thinner cookies.)

Royal Icing
Also from Martha Stewart Baking Handbook
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
(I usually halve this as well if I'm only making a half-batch of cookies)

1 pound (4 cups) confectioners' sugar
5 tablespoons meringue powder
liquid or gel-paste food coloring (optional)
(I usually add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract as well to give it flavor, but you could add any extract you choose to give it your desired flavor)

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, meringue powder, and a scant 1/2 cup water on low speed. Beat until mixture is fluffy yet dense, 7 to 8 minutes.
2. To thin the icing for flooding (filling in areas with a thin layer of icing), stir in additional water, 1 teaspoon at a time. Test the consistency by lifting a spoonful of icing and letting it drip back into the bowl; a ribbon should remain on the surface for 5 to 7 seconds.
3. To tint icing, dip a toothpick or wooden skewer into food coloring, and gradually mix it in until the desired shade if reached.

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