I’m taking a load off some holiday cookie baking stress this season. I’m going rustic and I’ve decided to put a little sugar on the rustic trend with my Rustic Caramel Iced Brown Sugar Cookies.
I’m not the first to go a little rustic with a sweet. In recent years, we’ve all certainly seen our fair share of naked cakes. Those were part of the rustic trend, especially popular for rustic farmhouse weddings.
Then, there’s the whole modern farmhouse trend. I like a modern twist on a classic.
But sugar cookies? Well, I started off planing this post by thinking about a classic sugar cookie and all the fun decorations you can put on them.
All the icings and sprinkles and piping and flooding and, and….you know. Aaaallll the stuff. Trust me. I have bins full of stuff to decorate sugar cookies.
My sister loves decorating sugar cookies. And with her creative abilities, rest assured they are works of art. She’ll do a whole batch of them, each one looking better than the next.
When we were single, my friends and I used to get together at Christmas to bake cookies. I would often make Italian Biscotti.
Another friend typically made peanut butter blossoms (the one with the kiss in the middle.) Yet another friend unfortunately ended up as our comic relief.
I remember the first year, she was making some kind of cookie by piling flour on a board and slowly working in eggs, like some do when they’re making homemade pasta.
I still can’t remember what kind of cookie it was supposed to be. I just remember eggs escaping the pile of flour and all of the chaos of trying to catch them before they hit the floor.
That became an affectionate joke for all the cookie bake offs that followed.
Then, there was my friend who hosted the cookie bake off. She always made sugar cookies. Lots of them. Which meant, that after we were done baking our other cookies, there were lots of sugar cookies to decorate :/
The first year, we had a contest. We each decorated a Santa cookie. He was in full figure with a bag of toys on his back.
I remember painstakingly coloring my icing to match his skin tone and adding blush to his cheeks. I made sure to capture his blue eyes and added texture to the fur on his suit. I think I spent an hour decorating that one cookie.
I was sure to win, no? Honestly, I can’t remember if I won or not. It sure was a beautiful cookie.
My friend that made the peanut butter blossoms, decorated hers in about a minute and moved on. And, after I decorated mine, I had no real desire to decorate more cookies, at least not as painstakingly as the first.
And that became another affectionate joke for years to come. When we finished baking all of the other cookies and it came time to decorate the sugar cookies, we’d all let out a groan. There’d be some beauties in the pile, that’s for sure.
But, you could definitely tell when we had had enough. Suddenly it was just drizzles and sprinkles. No artwork. No tedious details. It was the only way we could get through the pile of sugar cookies and live to tell about it :)
I actually like decorating cookies, as long as it doesn’t get too tedious. We have lots of fun decorating our Peanut Butter Cut Out Cookies. Each one has it’s own personality.
This year has been crazy, though. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling the stress of the holidays. I want to get my cookie baking done, but life has a way of throwing curve balls when you least expect it.
I had all kinds plans of what cookie I would post next, when I started thinking about sugar cookies. And, then I started thinking about how I would decorate them. You know, make them extra pretty for you.
And then I started thinking about the sugar cookies of Christmas past and decided to back away from a whole batch of intricately decorated sugar cookies. But I had this other idea gnawing at me. I was thinking about brown sugar cookies.
Before I knew it, I was aaaalll about making a brown sugar cookie with a brown sugar based icing. But I was also aaallll about keeping the decorations simple. There would be no food dye involved, no rainbow colored sprinkles.
I wanted the cookies to be a sugar cookie of a different color, as it were. Au natural…but not naked ;)
So, I baked up a batch of brown sugar cookies. Some of them were simply topped with a generous amount of raw turbinado sugar. But I knew I’d want some icing on others.
Then , I made a brown sugar caramel icing. That was a game changer. It’s buttery and brown sugary with notes of warm caramel.
Since I was going with simple and quick in the decorating department, I just drizzled the icing in a diagonal pattern on most of the cookies. Then, keeping with the neutral palette, but wanting a bit of sparkle…I added a sprinkle of gold sugar. So pretty!
And then, I got another idea…toasted pecans! I love nuts in cookies! I know I’ve mentioned that I love toasted pecans in a chocolate chip cookie. (Though, as I’ve mentioned before, my husband prefers them without) :(
I taste tested the pecans and icing on a reject cookie and almost changed the whole recipe to a butter pecan sugar cookie recipe. Yum! But, not everyone likes nuts in their cookies, so I kept all the options on the table.
Truth be told, though, all of the cookies were delicious for different reasons. I liked the simplicity and crunchy texture of the raw sugar topping. I loved the gold sparkle on the creamy drizzled icing. And, you know how I felt about the pecans.
These cookies were not just sugar cookies with a tan. These were a completely different kind of sugar cookie! No fancy colors or rainbow sprinkles, just a very flavorful icing on a brown sugar flavored cookie.
And, there was no stress in decorating them. That’s why I called them, “Rustic.” Rustic Caramel Iced Brown Sugar Cookies. They’re the comfy side of sugar cookies.
Yep, they’d fit right in with a naked cake in a fancy barn somewhere. Just look at them; they’re just screaming to be tied up with a burlap ribbon :)
When I told my family I was making brown sugar cookies, I didn’t get much of a reaction.
When they saw them decorated in their oh so simple way? Well, let’s just say they were impressed. I guess seeing is believing. They thought they were simply beautiful!
Oh, and then I asked everyone if they wanted to sample one of the cookies. My son picked one with icing and gold sprinkles. My daughter picked one that just had the raw sugar on top.
My husband? He picked the one with the nuts :| (Wait. What?!?)
Yeah. Go figure.
Rustic Caramel Iced Brown Sugar Cookies
For the cookies:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup salted butter 2 sticks, room temperature
- 1 cup brown sugar packed
- 1 large egg room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the caramel icing:
- 6 Tablespoons salted butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- pinch salt
- 3 Tablespoons milk any kind is fine, I used 1%
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
- raw turbinado sugar
- gold sprinkles
- chopped toasted pecans
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and continue beating until well combined, scraping bowl as necessary. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until fully combined.
Spread a couple of sheets of overlapping plastic wrap on your work surface to create an area large enough for you to roll your dough. Take half of the dough and gather it into a ball.
- Tear off two more sheets of plastic wrap and cover the ball of dough, overlapping the plastic so that you have another big area of wrap sandwiching dough. Lightly press on the ball to flatten it into a disk.
Roll the dough between the two pieces of plastic wrap to desired thickness. Occasionally lift the plastic wrap to release any wrap that gets caught under the dough. I roll mine to just under 1/4". Roll it thinner for a crispier cookie (about 1/8") Repeat with the other half of dough.
- Wrap the edges of the plastic wrap up over the dough and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes or until dough is firm.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove top layer of plastic wrap and use flour dipped cookie cutters to cut desired shapes. I dip the cutter in flour in between each cut or two. Gather dough together and reroll to cut more cookies. I rolled my dough between the same sheets of plastic wrap so I didn't need to add any flour to my rolling surface.
Place cut out cookies a couple of inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. If topping with raw sugar, sprinkle on generously before baking. I baked a portion of my cookies topped with the raw sugar and left the rest plain to ice later.
Bake for 8-12 minutes. Time will depend on how thinly you rolled your cookies and how hot your oven runs. I baked mine for about 8-10 minutes or until the bottoms edges were just beginning to get very lightly browned.
Allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then remove to a rack to finish cooling.
Make the caramel icing:
Melt butter in a small saucepan. Stir in brown sugar and a nice pinch of salt. Add milk and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Allow it to boil for about 30 seconds, then remove from heat and allow to sit for about 10 minutes. Get your cookies ready to decorate and your toppings ready to go.
After the 10 minutes of cooling, whisk in the confectioner's sugar until icing is smooth and creamy. Add more milk, a teaspoon at a time until desired drizzling consistency.
You can either drizzle the icing with a fork or spoon it into a zip top bag to pipe it. If you use the bag, just cut one of the bottom corners off. (I used the bag.)
Working quickly (because icing will continue to thicken in the bag) drizzle the icing over cookies, stopping to add sprinkles or nuts immediately after you drizzle each cookie. Allow icing to set firmly before storing cookies.
*The amount of cookies you get will depend upon the size of your cookie cutter and how thinly you roll the dough. This recipe made about 52 cookies for me.
*The icing sets up quickly so don't make it until your cookies are cool and you have them set up and ready to be iced.
*If your icing begins to get too thick in your piping bag, you can add a splash of milk to the bag and massage it into the mixture until it's fluid enough to drizzle again. I used a binder clip to fold over my snipped corner and close it off while I was mixing in more milk. I think if I weren't also taking photos, I would have been able to ice all of the cookies without having to thin the icing again.
*I like to roll my cookie dough between sheets of plastic wrap right after it's been mixed. It's cleaner and easier to work with. This only works well if your plastic wrap sticks to your work surface. You can also just wrap the ball of just mixed dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate, then roll it out on a floured surface and cut out your shapes as you traditionally would with sugar cookies.
*I rolled my dough between an 1/8" and 1/4" thick and baked for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden on the edges. This gave me a firm, but soft cookie. For a crispier cookie, roll thinner and bake longer.
**Store cookies in an airtight container remembering that icing will help keep the cookies soft. Mine were still soft on day 5. It's more difficult to keep them crispy since any topping with moisture in it will soften them. If you're only topping with sugar and you rolled and baked them using the crispy tips I've provided, I would store them in an airtight container layered with paper towels to help absorb any excess moisture. Please note that this recipe isn't engineered to bake up super crispy cookies. The different methods simply offer you an option to go a little crispier or a little softer.
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