My earliest memories of sugar cookies involve Sunday mornings spent in the kitchen during the holidays. Nat King Cole would be crooning in the background, and I would be watching my mother roll out the chilled dough while I would pick out my favorite cookie cutters and eagerly press them into the chilled dough, sometimes too eagerly.
Wait....just kidding. That was just a dream. Let me back up and give you the real story.
My earliest memories of sugar cookies involve watching my sister--not my mother--in the kitchen, baking sugar cookies during any season--not just the holidays. And instead of rolling out dough, she was separating those refrigerated break-and-bake cookie dough squares that magically turn into perfect circles. Also, there were no cookie cutters because we preferred perfectly symmetrical circle cookies to misshapen reindeer. The final step was watching my sister dig a butter knife into a can and dollop a generous amount of sugary sweet vanilla or chocolate frosting onto each cookie.
Sorry for destroying that earlier idyllic image of sugar cookies, but not every recipe I make has a "labor of love" story to go along with it. Well, I guess I do love my sister despite the fact that she brought these cookies to school with us and insisted that she went through the labor of baking them from scratch and forming them into perfect circles.
I never had a thing for sugar cookies, most likely because I associated them with packaged cookie dough that tasted like sugar in plastic form. But in law school, I tried baking my first sugar cookie from scratch and realized that I did in fact enjoy a sugar cookie. After all, they are cookies and they are made with sugar and flour, so it would be difficult for me to not enjoy them.
But this was the first time I have tried baking a vegan sugar cookie, and I have to say, I deserve a pat on the back. Let's talk about this recipe now, shall we?
- All-purpose flour: I have not tried making these gluten-free, but according to my interwebs research, it appears you can use a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend in many vegan sugar cookie recipes.
- Arrowroot powder/tapioca starch/cornstarch: along with the flax egg, this stuff helps to bind the dough.
- Flax egg: for one flax egg, combine 1 tablespoon ground flaxmeal with 2 1/2 tablespoons warm water in a small bowl. Stir to combine and let sit for 15 minutes to thicken up.
- Vegan butter: my go-to vegan butter is Earth Balance - no one can ever tell the difference between this stuff and dairy butter in baked goods.
- Baking time: don't overbake these. Given the light color of sugar cookies, they might come out of the oven looking very pale, like they have been hibernating all winter. That's okay--not all cookies can be sunkissed. Don't give into the temptation to bake them until they're brown because they will dry out.
And now for that beautiful pink frosting!
- Cashews: Don't skip the soaking step or skimp on the soaking time, or the frosting won't work at all. Soaking the cashews is what softens them and enables you to make creamy vegan sauces and frostings.
- Food processor vs. blender: I find that my food processor (I have this one but an older and smaller version) pulverizes the cashews better than a high-speed blender like the Vitamix and makes for a creamy, smooth frosting without any nut lumps (I know, gross, right?). You can use a high-speed blender if that's all you have, but it'll require more time and effort (I'm looking at you, Vitamix tamper).
- Sweetener: My recipe calls for coconut nectar because I like its viscous texture (similar to honey), but you can substitute maple syrup if you don't have coconut nectar (or use honey if you're not strictly vegan).
- Plant milk: I use full-fat canned coconut milk for a really luscious, creamy frosting, but you can also use another plant milk (I suggest almond milk).
- Food coloring: I used beet powder, but you can substitute beet juice, which is more readily available. To make your own beet juice, use a grater to finely grate a raw, peeled beet in a clean dish towel and then squeeze the juice out of it over a bowl. Add the beet juice a little at a time to the cashew cream frosting and blend until you get the color you want. Or, if you happen to have one of those fancy cold-pressed beet juices in your fridge, you can add a little bit of that to the frosting.
Vegan Sugar Cookies with Beet Cashew Cream Frosting
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons arrowroot powder, tapioca starch, or cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) vegan butter, softened at room temperature
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup organic granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 flax egg
- Beet Cashew Cream Frosting (Recipe below)
- Prepare your flax egg (see frosting notes above).
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, arrowroot powder (or tapioca starch or cornstarch), and salt. Set aside.
- Using an electric mixer or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the vegan butter on low speed until it's creamed. Add in the olive oil, sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat on medium speed until well combined, approximately 1 minute.
- Then add in the prepared flax egg and beat the mixture until it’s well combined, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed.
- Add the flour mixture to the liquid ingredients, mixing on low speed until just combined, taking care not to overbeat. If the dough gets too thick, switch to a wooden spoon. If the dough is too wet, add in a bit more flour, a tablespoon at a time.
- Press the dough together to form a large ball and flatten into a disc. Wrap the disc with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes until slightly firm.
- While the dough is in the fridge, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.
- Scoop out a heaping tablespoon of the chilled dough and roll into a ball for each cookie. Arrange the cookies on the prepared cooking sheet 2 inches apart to allow for spreading.
- Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes until the bottoms are just very lightly golden brown. Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting with Beet Cashew Cream Frosting.
Beet Cashew Cream Frosting
- 1 cup raw cashews, soaked for 8 hours or overnight
- 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
- 1/4 cup canned coconut milk
- 3 tablespoons raw coconut nectar (or maple syrup)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1-2 teaspoons beet powder (or beet juice)
- Drain the soaked cashews thoroughly and place them in a food processor and blend for 1 minute until they are broken down and beginning to come together.
- Add the coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut nectar or maple syrup, and vanilla extract and blend for 1-2 minutes until completely combined and you have a smooth, creamy, spreadable consistency.
- Add in a teaspoon of beet powder (or beet juice) and blend until the color is incorporated. Continue adding more beet powder or beet juice until you achieve your desired color.