Time consuming: yah.
Sugar cookies are great all year around. Especially when you have the Wilton 100 piece cookie cutter set and have pretty much every cookie cutter you'll ever need. But I especially love making cut out cookies for Christmas. This recipe makes tasty sweet cookies. The cookies themselves are a hard cookie, and the icing dries to a hard shell. They're awesome and this has been my go-to recipe for the last 5 years or so.
The cookie recipe comes from and old girlfriend of my brother's and halves or doubles nicely. I recommend turning this into a multiday process. First making the dough (then chilling overnight). Then cutting out and baking the cookies. Then decorating. Since the cookies are hard, they can stay out at room temperature without going stale.
2 cups AP flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup white/granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Cream butter and sugar until combined. Don't over cream or you will incorporate too much air and your cookies may loose their shape when baked.
2. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until well combined. Add flour and salt, and mix until fully incorporated.
3. Split dough into two chunks. Flatten each chunk into a disc and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour if not overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
5. Roll out dough on a heavily floured surface about 1/4" thick. Cut into shapes and transfer to prepared baking sheets. Bake for 13-15 minutes until the bottoms become mottled and golden. Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
3 cups of powdered sugar
2 egg whites or prepared equivalent of egg white powder (aka meringue powder)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with an electric mixer until well blended and smooth.
2. Separate and dye with gel (my preference) or liquid food coloring for as many colors as you want.
The Adventures of Sweet Sugar Belle has some awesome tutorials about piping and flooding with royal icing. I could reiterate it all here, but why reinvent the wheel?
I prefer to tint as few colors as possible. In the batch of cookie pictured, I tinted some icing red and some green, while leaving the majority white. I discovered and loooooved the Wilton FoodWriter markers last year for making super cute, detailed, and easy decorations on my cookies and can't imagine going back to tinting a million different colors of icing.