Even during this socially restrained pandemic, there are still likely to be times when you’ll want to bake an enormous batch of cookies quickly — whether it’s for sharing with others, or for your own future bingeing. Sheet-pan sugar cookies are here for you.
The dough is pretty much like any other sugar cookie, heavy on the butter, crumbly and rich. But, instead of chilling the dough for several hours so you can laboriously roll and cut it into shapes, it’s more efficiently baked in a sheet pan, then sliced into bars. Made in a standard 13-by-17-inch sheet pan, it yields about 90 cookies, and it’s my go-to during the holiday season, when I can hand them around to dozens of friends.
During this pandemic, though, I halved the usual batch and baked it in a 9-by-13-inch pan. While I did manage to give some of the cookies to a few people — my mom, our neighbors — my husband, daughter and I have happily nibbled the rest.
To make about 45 cookies, grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, and line it with parchment if you like, leaving an overhang. (The parchment isn’t necessary but does make it easier to lift the cookies out after baking.)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Using an electric mixer, beat together 12 tablespoons/170 grams (1 ½ sticks) softened unsalted butter with ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons/125 grams granulated sugar, letting the mixture get nice and fluffy. Beat in an egg, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom (or more vanilla), and some finely grated lemon (or lime) zest, about half a lemon’s worth.
Now, add ½ teaspoon fine sea salt and ½ teaspoon baking powder, beating well. Then finally, add 2 cups/255 grams all-purpose flour, beating just until the mixture is combined.
Using a spatula, spread the mixture evenly into your prepared pan. I like to use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough from the bowl to the pan, then smooth it out with a small metal offset spatula. (I might be unreasonably attached to my small metal offset spatula.) Just don’t use your hands, because the dough is very, very sticky.
Bake until the top is pale golden and the edges, a darker golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: Using an electric mixer, beat together 4 tablespoons/55 grams soft unsalted butter, 1 ¼ cups/150 grams confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice, a large pinch of ground cardamom and a tiny pinch of fine sea salt. If it’s too thick, add a little more lemon juice or a splash of milk. When it’s smooth and spreadable, slather it on top of your (uncut) cookie slab.
Now comes the fun part: decorating the top with rainbow sugar, sprinkles, nonpareils, mini chocolate chips, chopped candied ginger, shredded coconut, gummy bears (why not) or freshly grated lemon or lime zest. Of course, you can skip this if you’re a minimalist. But it really does make the cookies much more adorable than leaving them plain. But, they’re your cookies, so you do you.
Use a long, sharp knife to cut it into bars. Let them firm up for at least an hour before storing the cookies in an airtight container, where they’ll keep for a week. But feel free to start eating them as soon as they’re iced. You’ll have a mound of cookies to work your way through, so let the nibbling commence.