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Cookie time! This quick recipe makes it easy to offer fresh-baked sweets to holiday guests

By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency on

Fresh. Baked. Cookies. Spoken together, those three words conjure feelings of homey warmth and goodwill that are the very essence of the holidays.

Many people consider cookies served straight out of the oven (or, to be a little less evocative but more realistic, cooled briefly after baking) the stuff of family memories. The sweet scent permeates the whole kitchen, and often the rest of the house, with toasty aromas. And even when they're cookies that also keep well in an airtight tin for days or weeks, oven-fresh ones seem to fill our senses with the most vivid flavors and -- depending on the type of cookie -- textures either crispy, chewy or soft.

But not all cookies lend themselves to last-minute baking or to being served soon after they leave the oven. Some, like bar cookies, need longer cooking and cooling times to set properly for cutting. Others, like sandwich cookies, filled cookies or elaborately decorated cookies, have more complicated recipe instructions that should include the dreaded words that appear on the boxes of too many children's toys: Some assembly required.

None of those worries should concern you when you set out to make the following recipe for cinnamon sugar cookies. The simple, sweet, buttery dough itself takes just a few minutes to mix and then requires only a few hours of chilling; though you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to five days, ready to roll into balls and bake at the last minute when guests arrive. Shaping the dough and coating it with cinnamon sugar is also a fun activity in which you can involve willing visitors, who then have to wait no more than 15 minutes for the cookies to come out of the oven -- and a few more minutes after that for them to cool.

How much easier could cookie baking be? The rewards -- delicious rounds that are crisp but not too crisp, crumbly but not too crumbly, and rich but not overly rich, with subtle but noticeable aromas and flavors of vanilla and cinnamon -- are far greater than any effort involved. You could also easily vary the cookies, if you like, by rolling out larger balls (be sure to place them farther apart), substituting another flavor extract for the vanilla, and even omitting the cinnamon sugar coating and instead icing the cookies any way you want after they've cooled.

Your options are almost limitless. But the wonderful results can always be summed up in just three words: Fresh. Baked. Cookies.

CINNAMON SUGAR COOKIES

Makes about 5 1/2 dozen

2 3/4 cups (685 mL) all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 1/8 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

8 ounces (250 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Put the butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle or beaters; or in a large mixing bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer fitted with beaters. At medium speed, beat the butter until softened and smooth.

Add 1 cup (250 mL) plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar and continue beating at medium speed; then, when the sugar is fully incorporated, raise the speed to high and continue beating until the mixture is fluffy, stopping the beaters as needed to scrape down the side of the bowl and the beaters with a rubber spatula. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until fully incorporated.

Scrape out the dough onto a clean, lightly floured work surface. With clean hands, form the dough lightly into a ball and wrap well in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 to 3 hours or as long as four to five days.

When ready to bake the cookies, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Line one or two baking trays with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon, then spread the mixture on a small, flat plate. With clean hands, pinch off a mound of dough weighing about 1/2 ounce (15 g) each; then, roll it between your palms into a ball about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter; roll the ball in the cinnamon sugar until evenly coated; and place it on the prepared baking tray. Continue the process, placing the balls about 2 inches (5 cm) apart.

When a baking tray is full of dough balls, bake until the cookies have spread and turned golden brown around the edges and slightly firm to a quick, careful fingertip touch, 14 to 15 minutes total time, reversing the trays front to back halfway through for even baking. With a wide spatula, remove the cookies from the trays and transfer to a wire rack to cool. If reusing a baking tray, cool slightly before arranging more balls of dough on it.

Store the cooled cookies in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to three weeks.

(c) 2017 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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