Soft sugar cookies are in the drop-cookie family. This means the dough is dropped on a cookie sheet in a small, even mound, and the cookie spreads into its shape while baking.
To help these soft sugar cookies spread, we want a lot of air in them. The butter should be soft—around 65 degrees—so we can incorporate as much air as possible during the creaming process. Baking powder gives the cookies twise as much rise as it releases gasses during the first portion of the bake time, then again inflating the cookies after they spread. It does this by slipping inside the air pockets we worked so diligently to add in the creaming process, and blowing them up like little balloons. Just like the baking soda fills the tiny pockets with carbon dioxide, the water in this cookie is going to fill the pockets with steam. To encourage this we will use egg whites only.
We will also add air to this cookie by sifting the flour 3 times. Each time you separate the flour particles with a mesh sieve, they catch air between them, much of which will be incorporated into the cookie when the flour is mixed in.
But creating the air pockets is only half the story. It’s not the creation and expansion of the air pockets that create the chew of a soft sugar cookie—it’s the collapse of them. If this cookie retained the air, it would be cake-like instead of chewy. Instead, we want the air pockets to collapse completely and disappear from the cookie just after the dough inside has changed from raw to cooked, but before the protiens and starches lock into place to create an unchangeable structure To encourage this Goldilocks style “just right” texture, many pastry chefs give a hot tray of drop cookies a quick whack on the countertop just after the come out of the oven.
For this cookie, the egg should also be at room temperature. Butter and egg do not mix easily. At best, they emulsify: the fat breaks down into pieces small enough to sit alongside the water. Warmer ingredients are easier to coax into this arrangement. As a result, room-temperature butter mixed with a room-temperature egg will mix more evenly, preventing the ingredients from shifting during baking and creating a heavy bottomed cookie.
I often roll the dough in colorful sanding sugar before baking to give the cookies an additional layer of crunch. If left unsanded, the cookies also are great frosted.
250g butter, between 60 and 65 degrees 330g sugar 10g kosher salt 50g egg white 1 tsp almond extract 10g baking powder