Updated: May 8
Having a stressful day? Let’s take a minute to talk about sugar cookies. Yes, that’s right, sugar cookies - the delicious, chewy, sprinkled cookie of our dreams. While many people associate this crowd-pleasing dessert with holiday parties and Santa Claus, this delicious little confection has its very own celebratory day right smack in the middle of the summer (whoever decided on the date seems to have taken into account that people will likely want sugar cookies more than once a year, and has given us some time to detox after a cookie filled December). Believe it or not, Americans everywhere observe National Sugar Cookie Day on July 9th, a time of joy, frosting, and stomach aches (that is, if you love sugar cookies as much as I do). National Sugar Cookie Day rolls around and people go crazy prepping their kitchens, lighting their ovens, rolling up their sleeves, and unloading all the goods. That home-bakers whip out their rolling pins, measuring cups, pounds of softened butter, sifted flour, refined sugar, a variety of fancy-dancy sprinkles, and all kinds of decorating equipment - it’s a real sight to see.
So where did these scrumptious things actually come from? Well, despite National Sugar Cookie Day being one of the newer holidays (although I can’t imagine why it wasn’t recognized sooner), sugar cookies themselves have been enjoyed in America for centuries, brought right to good ol’ Pennsylvania by German settlers in the 1700s. According to the Vintage Recipe Project, those settlers lived in the PA Nazareth colony and used a cutter to form the dessert into a sweet little keyhole shape to represent the state’s symbol. The cookie recipe may have been simple, but it certainly caught on quickly and became popularized as the fabled Nazareth Cookie (Hillier, 2019). These days, the standard recipe hasn’t changed much (a classic example of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”), and people everywhere continue to love bringing these babies to parties and sharing them with their friends all year round.
While the recipe may be similar, today’s sugar cookies sure do look different. In the modern-day, we’ve upgraded from the keyhole shape to some sincerely beautiful decoration. Seriously, have you ever seen those professionally made sugar cookies? You know the ones, they have the impossibly smooth, crisp icing that’s beautifully colored and carefully laid out in intricate patterns and designs. I swear, I once saw a sugar cookie that was decorated to look exactly like a real housewife (I’m not kidding - check out this article about a bakery in NYC...honestly, how do they do that??). The people who create them are appropriately known as “cookie artists,” and sometimes open up entire bakeries dedicated only to one single baked good - yes, you guessed it, the mighty sugar cookie. I’ve been seeing them pop up everywhere in the last few years, and the best part of all is that they’re no longer limited to a certain time of year. With this new popularity and ability to decorate them however your heart may desire, they’re sold in the spring, summer, winter, and fall and are often deliciously flavored with extracts representative of the season! Let me set the scene for you - you're on the beach one hot summer day in July, celebrating National Sugar Cookie Day. You reach into your cooler and boom - you pull out a piña colada sugar cookie that tastes like coconut and pineapple and looks just like the drink itself. Is it just me, or does that sound like a very happy summer memory?
As far as being a home-baker goes, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve absolutely tried my hand at cookie decorating. I’ve always loved baking, and decorating is the part that really gets me going. Every Christmas I spend the better part of a weekend making all sorts of cookie doughs - we’re talking butter cookies through a cookie press, intricately shaped gingerbread, and, of course, the classic sugar cookies for jolly ol’ Santa Claus. I wake up early, mix up some dough, roll it out and cut the shapes, pop them into a 350°F oven, do my best to take them out before the edges burn (I’ve for sure ruined entire batches of cookies...those things burn so easily!!!), and then let it cool down.
In the meantime, I’m out there separating eggs and mixing up bowls of royal icing in all different colors, fitting piping bags with teeny little metal tips, and becoming very, very sticky. And yet, despite my best attempts and obsessive preliminary research, decorating these cookies is extremely difficult. Not to mention the fact that I’m so exhausted by the time I’m actually decorating that the product itself seems to suffer slightly (though they always taste pretty good, I have some serious cookie acclaim in my family).
While I think I’m not a terrible cookie artist, there have absolutely been some cookie decorating disasters. Not only have I burned entire cookie batches, but I’ve also spilled royal icing all over my kitchen counters and floor, and have even dyed my hands (and face, somehow) with food coloring for weeks after the Christmas party. It seems like the reality is that there’s quite a knack to it, and attempting to do it start to finish all on your own is really tall order. I’m absolutely not saying that you shouldn’t try it out for yourself, in fact, I definitely think it’s worth a shot. However, if you’re looking for a more relaxed approach that still yields a whole bunch of really great sugar cookies which are both tasty and beautiful, I recommend you check out one of those do-it-yourself cookie-making kits. If you haven't heard of these yet, you're in for a pleasant surprise. It turns out you can get a DIY kit to make almost anything at home - just think of those very popular meal boxes you can subscribe to, which send a big box of perfectly measured ingredients right to your door with a little booklet about how to make a recipe you may not have otherwise attempted. Fortunately for us National Sugar Cookie Day celebrators, there are all kinds of excellent DIY sugar cookie kits - and you can order them all year round!
There are tons of benefits of using one of these DIY kits - not only will you save time slaving in the kitchen, but you’ll also skip doing a whole lot of sugary dishes, which honestly reasons enough for me. I’ve taken the liberty of poking around online for you guys to find a really good one, and you wouldn't believe how many options there were; it was a pretty wide range, and what sets one apart from another has a lot to do with how much you feel like doing yourself. Some of them come with recipes and supplies such as cookie cutters and decorating tips, meaning that you will need to provide the ingredients, oven, dishes, and time. While these would definitely be a great way to make some cookies, I think I’m looking for a way to cut down on the hours in the kitchen and just skip to the fun part (and I’m not ashamed to admit it). The thing is, when you start to look for a kit that provides the cookies too, you risk them not being very good. Do you know those gingerbread house kits they sell in the winter? Have you actually ever tasted the cookie? Yeah, it tastes a lot like the wall it’s meant to represent. Not to mention that icing - it really is more or less just sweet glue, it’s kind of like spackle with sugar in it. The two together combine to make a mostly inedible gingerbread house - unless you're into that kind of thing (eh, to each their own).
If you’re looking for a quality cookie you can actually eat, I would say that rules out most of the commercially available kits. Listen, some of them may honestly be good, but if a chewy, fresh sugar cookie is what you’re after for your DIY kit on National Sugar Cookie Day, I’d look elsewhere. If you’re concerned that this stipulation will really limit your options, don’t worry - lots of professional pastry chefs and bakers offer their own cookie decorating kits, and you better believe those cookies taste incredible!! If you go onto the social media accounts of your favorite local bakeries, it’s likely that they’ll be advertising an excellent at-home kit to fulfill your baking needs! As an added bonus, supporting a small business is always a good move.
Okay, so, let’s review. We want a DIY sugar cookie kit that comes with top-tier, pre-baked cookies that are ready for our decoration expertise. When looking for a kit under these constraints, we’re now looking at a few different options. Some of those kits will provide you with piping bags and icing, either white to be colored by you or pre-colored, and some of them will give you a recipe to make your own icing. In the interest of convenience, I would say that we are once again going to forego the actual food preparation here - let’s go with the option that provides the icing. From here, your cookies may honestly still be a bit tricky to get right. If you’ve ever tried to use a piping bag, it definitely looks easier on TV and can be a pretty messy activity. Again, it’s something that’s absolutely worth trying and is even something I really enjoy doing, it can just be a bit of a difficult process when all you want is a sweet little treat for the holiday. So what does this leave us with? Three words - paint your own. I swear this exists. You order a kit consisting of a few delicious sugar cookies covered with a smooth circle of white icing - they can either come to you blank or with an edible design printed onto them for you to color in! Using a cute little palette of edible paints, you grab that food-grade paintbrush provided in the kit and go to town! It’s very similar to watercolor painting, and is incredibly user-friendly, and is truly excellent for all ages. If you ordered a platter of them, it would likely be more affordable, less wasteful, much less messy, and easier for a larger group of people at your next party!
To be completely honest with you, this isn’t something I had ever heard of myself - I have a vague memory of coloring in a sugar cookie as a kid with a food-grade marker, but I’m pretty sure my mom wouldn't let me eat it because she questioned the legitimacy of that food coloring ink. These days, mom is less hesitant, and even ate (and thoroughly enjoyed) the cookies I painted! Yes, that’s right - I got my very own paint-your-own cookie kit from @pure.confections. Chef Jesebel Gumogda is the pastry chef and owner of Pure Confections, an online bakery that creates exquisite wedding cakes and many, many other fabulous treats! Jess herself is not only hugely talented, but incredibly accommodating, and has a really excellent range of paint-your-own sugar cookie kits! These kits really let you flex your artistic muscles, and, bonus, you get a snack at the end. As a painter myself, I can tell you with the utmost confidence that I am not usually able to eat the things I paint - this is a big deal.
So let me tell you a little about my experience with the paint-your-own cookie kit from Pure Confections (yes, I really did it). The first thing is that the designs themselves are adorable! The ones I received are from the summer collection and came with a cute little palette of four colors to use to paint the cookies, a food-grade paintbrush, as well as some clearly written instructions on the inside so I don’t get lost along the way. I opened them up, and went to work! Actually, pause, I opened them up and was instantly hit by their fantastic smell...I’m not exaggerating, it was like cookie heaven. Once I started painting, my instincts told me to use the four colors to mix and shade the images, and it was really fun to personalize these designs with my own “artistic vision”. I tried out different techniques, and mixed all sorts of great colors! It really was a lot like watercolor painting, and was not only easy and fun but clean as well! The paint doesn't stain, and is easily dissolved with water - perfect! Once I was done painting, my cookies looked fabulous. I spent a while taking pictures of them and showing them off - anything to delay actually eating them because they looked so good! While it was initially difficult to imagine eating my beautiful artwork, I’ll admit that I got over it pretty quickly. The best part? These cookies are really really delicious. They’re nice and chewy and are delicately sweet in the best way. The crisp icing adds great texture, and I swear the personalized paint job made them even yummier. I had a great time painting these cookies, and an even better time eating them! You wouldn't believe how many of these DIY food kits I’ve tried and have enjoyed making, but was sorely disappointed to find that they didn't actually taste very good. The flavor should be at least as important as the fun of making it, right? Right?? Maybe my feelings have been hurt by one too many nasty gingerbread houses.
What a journey we've been on, huh? We learned all about the sugar cookie of centuries ago, and the DIY varieties of our modern day. After all that research, we found one cookie kit to end all others - offering a fun, seasonal activity for your next party, AND a great snack. Chef Jesebel and Pure Confections really nailed it, and I can’t recommend these paint-your-own cookie kits enough for your National Sugar Cookie Day celebration! And listen, if you miss the actual holiday and just feel like having your own summer sugar cookie decorating party, go right ahead! Another perfect reason to grab some of these cookies from Pure Confections - we support this bold endeavor and hope it catches on (who wouldn't like to go to a party like that??). Happy National Sugar Cookie Day everyone!!