My sister Mary was shopping for her holiday baking this weekend. Mary’s a career woman and single mother, so she was seeking the happy basics: cookie sheets, icing, flour, eggs.
Shopping nearby were those … other people. You know the type: They needed parchment paper. They needed this and that and the other thing. So my sister started thinking, Whuck? Maybe I need parchment paper too.
Mary: This one’s for that parchment paper you bought.
My (great-)Auntie Mag used to bake dozens of cookies every Christmas. She had two recipes I remember: a very brittle gingerbread cookie recipe, and a delicious sugar cookie recipe. The gingerbread cookie recipe is lost to time, but the sugar cookies have returned to us at last.
The recipe for these appears in a tiny spiral notebook that belonged to my Grandma. It is the last one in the book. It follows recipes for things like “Chocolate Roll”, “Cranberry Swirl”, and “Burger-Mushroom Bake”, and it’s about seven lines long (due to space constraints: the notebook is 5″ x 3″). She called the recipe “Cut-Outs”, and it is midcentury to the core.
Next to the title, my Grandma made two notes: “Mag,” and “These are good.” They are, for sure. But the recipe is spare. It contains no mixing instructions, no oven temperature, no instructions for rolling and cutting, nothing on length of time for baking and cooling.
“Roll,” Grandma wrote, simply. (She always was direct.)
To Bake The 21st Century, Add Butter
The instructions below are my additions. I also added butter. This was originally a straight-margarine recipe: my auntie probably made it with sticks of Imperial, in her Long Beach kitchen. In that incarnation, it yields a soft dough that’s hard to transfer from rolling surface to pan, and bakes into a tender, nearly indestructible cookie that will outlive us all.
I hope you don’t mind that I spruced this one up a bit. I do love the butter.
So: For my mother, my late, great Grandma Mary Horn, and my sister Mary, here is the sugar cookie recipe from our Southern California childhood. Merry Christmas to all. God bless us, every one!
Auntie Mag’s Cut-Outs
(Takes about 4 hours to make, including chilling the dough; yields about 3 dozen cookies)
- 1 & 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 stick margarine, room temperature
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 & 1/2 cups flour, plus extra (for rolling the dough)
- 1 teaspoon soda
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Cookie sheets
- Parchment paper (there you go, big sister! There you go!)
- Cookie cutters
- Decorative colored sugar(s) for decoration
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheet(s) with parchment paper.
Cream butter and margarine (I like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Lethal”) together with sugar until fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and almond extracts; beat well.
Sift together flour, soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Gradually add to the butter-margarine mixture; stir to blend. When you have incorporated all of the flour mixture, mix on a higher speed until the dough has a nice cookie-dough texture. Cover and chill for 2-3 hours.
When the dough is ready, prepare a floured surface for rolling it out. Roll only some of the dough at a time; dust the dough and rolling pin with flour before rolling out. The thicker you roll the cookies (I like mine about 1/2 inch), the softer they will be.
Transfer cutouts to the cookie sheet, and decorate with colored sugar. I find it’s impossible to put too much on each one.
Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes or so, or until golden (not brown) at the edges. Try not to overbake. Allow to cool for a bit before devouring.