Few things sweeten the holidays like decorating cookies.

Maria Bruscino Sanchez, baker, entrepreneur and author, drops by with these tips to make your holiday brighter.

Sour Cream Cutouts

Yield 30 3-inch cookies.

Ingredients:
1 ½ sticks Margarine, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 Egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon lemon extract
¼ cup sour cream
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Method:
In an electric mixer, on medium speed, cream margarine and sugar until light. Add egg, vanilla, and lemon extract. Mix until well blended. Add sour cream. Mix well.
On low speed, add flour and baking powder. Mix until just blended.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350º.
Divide cookie dough in half. Keep other half in refrigerator. Roll dough to ¼ inch thick. Cut into desired shapes. Repeat with other half of dough. Save scraps for the end and re-roll until all dough is used.
Place the cookies onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, spacing 2-inches apart.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until firm and edges are just browned.
Remove cookie sheet from oven. Using a metal spatula, remove cookies from the sheet and place on a wire cooling rack. Cool completely.
Frost and decorate as desired.

How to Decorate Sour Cream Cutouts

There are several ways to decorate sour cream cutouts, depending on what type of look you'd like, and how much time you can spend decorating. The sky is the limit for your own creativity for decorating these cookies. Here are a couple of methods:

Water Wash and Colored Sugars
The simplest way to decorate cutout cookies is the brush the tops with water, and sprinkle with colored sugars. This should be done before baking.

You can also add food coloring right to the dough for an extra burst of color. You can also marble the dough by adding food color and not blending the color totally together. This will give the cookies an interesting design and texture

Frosted Cookies
To frost these cutouts we use cookie decorating frosting. To get a smooth finish on cookies, add a bit of water to the icing so it spreads smoothly. Let cookies dry completely before piping on designs or monograms, especially if you are using another color. The colors may bleed if the base is not completely dry.

Hand-Painted Cookies
This method of decorating gives the cookies a hand-painted watercolor style. After baking, frost cookies with cookie decorating frosting. Let cookies dry completely. Using a clean paintbrush and food coloring, paint desired designs. I prefer to use paste food coloring. I will take a bit of color from the jar and place it on a small piece of aluminum foil. This will be my palette. Dip your paintbrush in water to get a lighter shade of the color you are using. You can also mix colors on this aluminum foil palette.

Piping Frosting onto Cookies
You can decorate cutout cookies with a pastry bag, too. We use this technique for daisies, sunflowers and poinsettia cookies. All these flowers use the same petal flower cookie cutter, about 3 inches in diameter. The frosting will need to be a little stiffer to hold the design you are piping. Bake cookies shaped with a daisy-type petal flower cutter. Pipe petals from the center to the edge with tip #32 for daisies, tip #67 for sunflowers, and tip #352 for poinsettias. With tip #32 for daisies, pipe a different color center in the middle of the cookie (brown for sunflower center). Use tip #3 in yellow for poinsettias. Let cookies dry completely.

You can also frost cookies, then pipe on monograms, or pipe on sports logos or college logos. These personal types of cookies make ideal favors for weddings or showers. I've done dresses and wedding cake cookies for these occasions, as well as tropical fish, lady bugs and farm animals.

Cookie Decorating Frosting
This frosting is used to decorate gingerbread cookies, sour cream cutouts and other sugar cookies. It is also called royal icing, and it will air-dry overnight. This makes it the ideal frosting to use when making cookies for individually wrapped gifts. After the icing dries, wrap your creations in cellophane bags and tie with a festive ribbon.

This icing is very flexible. You can add whatever extract and / or food colorings you prefer. There is also flexibility in it's texture. To decorate cookies piped from a pastry bag or to assemble a gingerbread house, the frosting needs to be stiff. You may need to add more confectioners' sugar. To get a smooth, glossy surface on a cookie, water must be added to make a soft frosting. Do not refrigerate cookies decorated with this frosting. The frosting will melt. Let frosted cookies air-dry and store in airtight containers at room temperature.

Ingredients:
4 cups confectioners' sugar
½ teaspoon lemon extract (or other flavoring)
3 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 egg whites
Food coloring (optional)

Method:
Combine all ingredients in an electric mixer.
Mix on low speed until blended.
Whip on high speed 2 to 3 minutes or until shiny and smooth.
Add food coloring, if desired.
Store in an airtight container.