Nothing says “holidays” like trays of cookies hot from the oven, filling the kitchen with scents of vanilla and spice. Time to break out the gingerbread, dust off the cookie press, and forget about dieting–at least for the next few weeks.
Temptation comes in many forms: rolled dough cut into festive shapes and finished with crystallized sugar or decorative sprinkles; “drop” cookies spooned into heaps on parchment-lined baking sheets, indented with jam-filled thumb prints; trays of uniform butter-laced bars studded with nuts, chocolate chips, or powdered sugar glaze. They are impossible to resist, making them perfect gifts for neighbors, teachers, co-workers, and friends.
My mother made a ritual of baking sugar cookies for the holidays. She had a knack for transforming flour, sugar, and butter into something wonderful. As a child, I can still vividly recall standing on the graduated step stool propped against our kitchen counter, watching her roll out chilled sugar cookie dough on a big flour-dusted pastry cloth.
She always managed to achieve the perfect thickness, her hands expertly working the wooden rolling-pin. Deftly she’d press the holiday cookie cutters through the sheet of dough, transferring each shape to the waiting baking tray. It was my job to sprinkle them liberally with sugar and nutmeg. Reindeer, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and stars went into the oven soft and white–emerging 15 minutes later crispy and lightly browned. It was like magic to a child’s eye.
As I got older, my role in the cookie making ritual grew. My younger sister and I graduated to a card table in the kitchen where we would practice rolling out our own rounds of dough. With flour-sack towels tied around our necks as aprons, we emulated our mother’s actions as we learned the craft of baking. Honestly, I think we ate more dough than we made into cookies.
Mom’s sugar cookies were always the Christmas Eve offering on Santa’s plate. We kids hoped the treat would put the jolly elf in a mood to leave us lots of the items on our holiday wish list. It must have worked for him, because only crumbs remained on Christmas morning, and we made out like bandits!
Time passed. I grew up and left home for college–but when I returned each Christmas, I always knew I would be greeted by the familiar scent of Mom’s sugar cookies when I walked into the kitchen. Some things never change. Thankfully the cookie-baking ritual was one of them.
When I married and had children of my own, the holiday baking tradition came full circle. There was a sense of déjà vu as I watched my son and daughter roll out the cookie dough to make their grandmother’s recipe.
Grandma’s classic sugar cookie recipe has stood the test of time, and will always be a part of my family tradition. These crisp, classic treats taste like Christmas to me. I’m sharing the recipe with you, dear friends, in hopes it will inspire a new generation to gather in the kitchen.
GRANDMA’S OLD-FASHIONED SUGAR COOKIES
- 1/2 cup shortening (butter flavor OK)
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Pastry cloth
- Cookie cutters
- Sheet pans
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl, cream together the shortening, butter, and sugar. Add eggs and mix well.
- Add sour cream, baking soda, and vanilla, blending well. Slowly mix in flour until incorporated and the dough holds together. Press dough into (2) flat rounds, wrap in plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Lay out a large pastry cloth on a flat surface and sprinkle lightly with flour (this helps prevents the dough from sticking). Remove (1) cookie dough from the refrigerator, and place in the center of the cloth. Using a rolling-pin, start at the center and roll the dough out in a circle to about an 1/8 inch thickness.
- Use cookie cutters to cut shapes through the sheet of dough, transferring cookies to the sheet pan. Sprinkle cookies with sugar mixed with a little nutmeg. Repeat using second round of dough.
- Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes or until lightly brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.