Every year I have this party where I make vats of icing in psychedelic colors and a zillion sugar cookies in totally weird shapes and invite people over to decorate them. Before my friends all had kids, this party was mostly for adults who made the most creative and amazing (and often not PG) cookies. Now the party is ostensibly for “children,” but grown-ups still make the best cookies. Here’s how to do it. This is esentially a streamlined version of an ancient Fannie Farmer recipe.

  • 1 cup butter (two sticks), softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Put the flour, baking powder and salt in a small mixing bowl and stir them together with a fork.

The best way to make this dough is in a stand mixer. (I have a KitchenAid 6-quart and I have doubled this recipe in its bowl; if you have one that big or bigger you could probably even triple it.) If you have a handheld mixer that's fine, but don't try to double it. If you're doing this by hand, congratulations, you won't have to do arms at the gym tomorrow.

Put the softened butter in the workbowl and beat it with the paddle (or beaters) for about 30 seconds, starting on low speed and working your way up to high. The butter should be pale yellow and creamy.

Add the sugar and mix on medium speed for about 2 minutes, stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. It will look almost white.

Add the eggs and vanilla, then mix on medium about 30 more seconds. Scrape down the sides.

Add the flour mixture to the bowl mixer on low (unless you want to be covered in flour). Within about a minute it should come together and look like cookie dough.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a big piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Fold the wrap over the ball, flattening the dough with your hand. Wrap it up and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

When you're ready to make cookies preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Break off about half of the cookie dough and set it on your work surface to soften a little.

Dust your work surface with flour and roll the dough out about 1/8-inch thick.

Use all the geometry skills you have to cut as many elephants and horseshoes and dreidels as you can out of the piece of dough you've rolled out, using a bench knife (get one!) or a spatula to transfer them from the work surface to silicone baking mat or sheets of parchment. Gather the scraps into a ball, mush them together into a ball, wrap it and put it back in the fridge.

Put the mats on the cookie sheets or half sheet pans (cheap and indestructible—you need them!) and put two pans in the oven at a time. Set a timer at 7 minutes and check them. It might take as long as 10 minutes. They should be pale in the middle but light brown around the edges and golden on the bottom.

Pull the pans out of the oven and transfer the cookies to cooling racks or just pieces of aluminum foil on the counter. They take about 10 minutes to cool completely.

Meanwhile, bring the silicone baking mats (or new pieces of parchment) over to your work surface. Get the second half of the dough and repeat with new, weird cutters. Then gather those scraps into a ball and put it in the fridge. While you're there grab your first scrap ball and roll that out. See the pattern? You'll get in the zone.

When you're done, make the glaze.

Simple Sugar Cookie Glaze

This stuff tastes like diabetes but it dries to a hard, glossy surface on the cookies.

  • 1 (2-pound) bag confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 3-6 tablespoons milk
  • Gel food colors

Put the confectioner's sugar in the workbowl of your mixer (or whatever ya got) and drizzle the corn syrup over it.

Turn the mixer on and start slowly drizzling in the milk. It should be thick but thin enough to squeeze from a squeezy bottle. GO SLOW! You'll have to practice to get the right consistency. If it's too thin, add a little more confectioner's sugar. If it's too thick add the tiniest bit of milk.

Divide the glaze into bowls, short glasses or squeeze bottles and use gel food colors to make wild colors.

Set out the plain cookies, colored glazes, sprinkles and sparkles along with a variety of spoons, butter knives, toothpicks and forks for decorating. Prepare to have your house look like a unicorn threw up in it. Enjoy!