Martha Stewart's Sugar Cookies Have A Secret Ingredient

If you thought intricately decorated sugar cookies were just for the holiday season, think again: Martha Stewart has a recipe for embellished cookies on her website that just might wow your friends and family all year long. Though they're formed into wreaths for Christmastime, the dough can be cut into any shape you like, then baked, cooled, and glazed with a simple powdered sugar mixture to let your toppings shine.

While Stewart's rainbow cookies come with a pot of gold stuck on each end, her embellished wreath cookies are decked out from edge to edge with candied ginger and citrus, chopped pistachios (from Sicily, of course), and sugared edible flowers. However, high-end toppings aren't the only thing that make these sugar cookies special. Inside the fairly standard dough recipe is one ingredient that sets these treats apart: a couple tablespoons of brandy. Here's why the trick might be worth a try.

Why put brandy in sugar cookies?

Stewart doesn't explain on her website why she puts brandy in her embellished wreath cookies. However, Epicurious reveals that brandy adds a little bit more sweetness and depth of flavor to desserts in general. According to Greatist, the oaky, smoky, vanilla-like notes in brandy translate well to sugary treats. While it's perhaps best known for being the flambé agent in old-school desserts like bananas Foster, the liquor can also be added to cakes, crepes, and — in Stewart fashion — cookies.

Despite the booze in Stewart's sugar cookie dough recipe, don't expect too much brandy flavor to come through in the end. Epicurious writes that if you want your baked goods to taste like alcohol, the best way to do that is to add the liquor to the dessert after it's done baking. (For example, you could add brandy to your sugar cookie glaze.) In Stewart's recipe, the alcohol cooks off in the oven but lends some complexity to the finished cookies. If you don't have brandy in your liquor cabinet but want to try it for yourself, there are plenty of brandy substitutes, including non-alcoholic options like brandy extract and apple juice. And if you're ready to try adding alcohol to other desserts, there's also a boozy unexpected ingredient you can add to your pie dough for a great flaky texture.