Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Taste Tip: This dough must be prepared in advance.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
3½ to 4 cups flour, plus extra for rolling dough
1 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup milk
4 cups powdered sugar
Food coloring and decorative sugars, optional
To prepare cookies: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add molasses, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda and cream of tartar, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour and sour cream in three parts, starting with flour and ending with sour cream and mixing until just incorporated. If dough is really sticky, add extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or freeze for a few hours) until dough is very stiff.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Lightly flour a work surface and your hands. Take a handful of dough and press it down on work surface, then flip dough and press again, so there is flour on both flat sides of dough. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough to ¼ -inch thickness.
Dip cookie cutter in flour and cut out dough, placing cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets (grouping similar-size cookies on same baking sheet to avoid burning). Repeat with remaining dough, gathering up scraps, re-rolling and cutting until all dough is used. Bake until cookies have puffed up a bit and a lightly pressed finger doesn't leave an indentation, about 10 minutes; do not overbake. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare icing: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and vanilla extract until fluffy. Add milk and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low and add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until icing reaches desired consistency. Add food coloring, if using, 1 drop at a time, and mix until thoroughly combined. Using a knife, spread icing over cookies (recipe makes a generous amount of icing) and sprinkle with decorative sugars, if desired.
2007 Finalist: Patricia Bauer of Minneapolis, Minnesota