Christmas Sugar Cookie Memories
One of my fondest childhood memories of Christmastime is sugar cookie baking with my Mom and sisters. Every year, she would roll out the dough and we would take turns using the cookie cutters to produce stars, bells, snowmen and Christmas trees. While they were baking, Mom would whip up frosting out of confectioners’ sugar and divide it five ways so we could add the food coloring. Once the cookies were cool enough to handle, we’d always frost a few to munch while we attended the second best part of the task–decorating!
It’s not quite the same as an adult, of course. I actually don’t like to bake, even though I have a very nice non-stick rolling pin, which mostly doesn’t stick to the flour needed to handle the cutouts. Cookie dough, on the other hand… well, it sticks to the rolling pin like they were made for each other.
I do think an old-school decorating party would be fun, although my standards for beautiful cookies have matured significantly more than my frosting skills. (My youngest sister, meanwhile, could probably paint the Mona Lisa on a sugar cookie.) Even so, I couldn’t resist baking up a batch this year, for the taste of home if nothing else. With the right recipe, an oven becomes a time machine, and these cookies go back at least five generations.
Made with Love
The original recipe, according to family lore, came down from my great-great-grandmother, Pearl Snyder Clemons. My grandpa remembers his grandmother making great piles of cookies, sheets of them, and dusting the layers with flour.
(“Raw flour?!” Mom chimes in. “I hope it was actually powdered sugar that he just thought was flour!”)
I can’t tell you how many grandchildren Pearl had in all, but Malita raised ten kids, most of them boys. Those counter-tops full of cookies would have disappeared fast.
Malita adopted her mother’s recipe–always a sign of a family favorite. However, when her husband LeRoy developed “sugar diabetes,” as was the common term at the time, she modified the recipe by cutting back the sugar.
I find this gesture of love so poignant–earnest if ineffectual, a little funny and a little sad. It brings to my mind that Biblical phrase, sometimes used as an epitaph, “She hath done what she could.” When LeRoy came home from the doctor’s office, probably with the admonition to reduce his sugar, Malita did what she could. She adjusted her recipe and kept making the cookies that had by then surely become a comforting tradition and a symbol of home and family.
And now, with the disclaimer that this recipe is by no means diabetes-safe…
Malita’s Sugar Cookie Recipe
- 2 scant cups sugar
- 1 heaping cup lard (Mom says: 1 cup + 2 tablespoons)
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup sour milk
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- enough flour to handle (Mom says: about 4 cups. See notes below.)
Preheat oven to 350F.
For plain drop cookies:
Cream sugar, eggs and lard. Add sour milk and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, mix together the first 3 cups of flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.
Stir flour mixture into wet ingredients little by little. Add 1/2 to 3/4 of the 4th cup of flour to the mixture until it looks right, then do a test cookie and adjust as needed. (Less flour makes a softer cookie, delicious but too fragile for rolling and frosting.)
For frosted cut-outs:
Omit the nutmeg and add more flour, a 1/4 to 1/2 cup at a time until the dough is stout enough to roll.
Mom says that her mother makes great big pillowy sugar cookies a handspan wide, and of course, big cookies need more time than small ones. While 8-10 minutes should be about right, I recommend watching your test cookie carefully!
And finally, the frosting:
Mom always used the Domino’s buttercream frosting recipe printed on the box of their powdered sugar. Stir in food coloring as desired and adjust the consistency with milk if necessary, a spoonful or less at a time.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, dear readers!
Share your favorite holiday traditions in the comments section!