Old School Christmas Cookies

by convivialist

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If there’s one time of year to get traditional in the kitchen, let this be it. Growing up, this meant pulling out the shoebox of ancient aluminum cookie cutters and rolling out batches upon batches of Ethel’s Sugar Cookies. There were years when my mother made up to five or six times the instructed batch size. Once my sisters became bored with the cookie production (usually after about 10 minutes), I would continue, maniacally rolling, cutting, and decorating for hours until the red and green toppings had dwindled to sugary dust.

The recipe for Ethel’s sugar cookies is from a Betty Crocker cookbook, called the ‘Cooky Book’. I think the odd spelling of the singular form of ‘Cookies’ is a testament to just how old that book is. Pages and pages are dedicated to Christmas cookies, and there are two recipes for the classic Christmas sugar cookie: our family’s standby, Ethel’s, and another called Mary’s. Once, as a child, I convinced my mother to try out the Mary’s, just for fun. They were fine, but did not come close to the perfectly simple vanilla sugar flavor of Ethel’s, which seemed only to get better into the first weeks of January.

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The recipe is incredibly easy. You’ll see that it calls for a mixture of ‘shortening’ or margarine, but please ignore this and go for all butter. That book was printed back in the day when people thought margarine was a health food. Another recommendation from years of making Ethel’s is to leave the dough to chill in the refrigerator overnight. It will seem very hard when you take it out to roll, but the chilling time is important to give the flavor a chance to develop and keep the dough from getting too sticky as you work with it.

This year we will be staying in Berlin for Christmas. I managed to whip up a double batch of Ethel’s last week to have plenty of sugar cookies on hand for our holiday party over the weekend. Some I decorated with colored sugar, others more maturely with tiny rose leaves or vanilla sugar with cardamom. Alas, I (inadvertently?) neglected to put them out on the buffet. Oooops. At least it ensures we’ll be eating Ethel’s into January, just as it should be.

Recipe: Ethel’s Sugar Cookies

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