This is a guest post by Lindsey Johnson, who is not only my food photographer extraordinaire (for both my second and third cookbooks), but also the writer behind Cafe Johnsonia! And these homemade sugar cookies are some of the best ones yet! While these of course still use sugar, we've made them a little healthier by using whole-wheat flour.
Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and then set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar until creamy using an electric stand or hand-mixer. Add one egg and beat just until combined; repeat with the second egg. Add the lemon zest, if using, vanilla extract, almond extract, and honey, if using. Beat just until combined. Scrape down sides of mixing bowl as needed.
Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat just until combined. Repeat two more times. Stop the mixer and stir gently to incorporate any remaining flour. Don't over-mix the dough or the cookies will be tough instead of tender
Form the dough into a ball and flatten slightly to form a disk. Wrap well with plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill for several hours or overnight.
To make the cookies
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Lay a large piece of parchment paper out onto a clean, dry surface and dust lightly with flour. Unwrap the dough and sprinkle the top with a little dusting of flour. Roll the dough into a large rectangle or oval that is about 1/4-inch thick. (It can be rolled thinner or thicker, if desired, according to preference.)
Cut the dough into shapes with cookie cutters and transfer to the lined baking sheets, making sure to leave a little space in between to allow for a little bit of spreading.
Bake for 5-8 minutes, checking after 5 minutes. The cookies will be set in the center and lightly browned on the edges when they are done. For crisper, golden cookies, bake for a few minutes longer. The baking time will change, too, depending on the size of the cookie cutters.
Repeat the process with remaining dough scraps, gathering them together into a ball and re-rolling on a lightly floured surface. Allow the cookies to cool for several minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to cooling racks. Let cool completely before decorating.