Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sugar Cookies with a Creative Touch

Sugar cookies are a delicious part of many families' Christmas traditions.
My family has made sugar cookies every Christmas for decades.
The different colors and shapes are festive and fun.
Over the years, though, 
I have found that my mother's and grandmother's 
traditional sugar cookie recipe lends itself well to variation.
With this cookie, one can use imagination and creativity
to come up with countless versions.

In  recent years, I have experimented with new ingredients and decorations.
 Breaking with tradition, I haven't frosted them,
and I haven't sprinkled them with the red and green sugar our family always used.
 I found a very pretty large-crystal white decorative sugar
which gives the cookies a beautiful, glittery white snow-like quality.
Besides varying the sugars for decorating, I've also used
 lemon or orange peel added to the dough 
to give them a subtle citrus flavor.
photo courtesy of

I sometimes mix in 2 tablespoons of lavender buds
for a delicate flavor of lavender. 
When I first made these, I was concerned they would taste like soap,
but they were delicious, with just a hint of lavender flavor.
The lavender cookies are especially pretty with the little flecks of purple.

photo courtesy of

I plan to experiment with other herbs or edible flowers.
Lemon verbena, pineapple sage, or mint would give a nice flavor. 
I bet the bright orange-gold petals of calendula (pot marigold)
would be pretty baked in. 
Rosewater might lend a lovely hint of rose.

But the cookies can also be varied using pantry items.
Add cocoa and mace to create chocolate sugar cookies,
or finely chopped hazel nuts for a sugary nut cookie.
And then go even further and make little hazelnut cookie sandwiches using Nutella.

Since today, December 6th, is St. Nicholas Day,
traditionally celebrated by placing candy or fruit in children's shoes 
to find in the morning when they awake and dress,
one could use a little of St. Nick's leftover candy
and add a tablespoon or two of  crushed peppermint,
  butterscotch disks or toffee to the cookies.

One of the great things I have found about these cookies
is that the dough can be shaped into a log and the cookies sliced off
in 1/8 to one quarter-inch thicknesses for baking,
depending on how crisp one wants the cookie.
And it's a real time saver.
Perhaps best of all,
when left unfrosted, these sugar cookies will keep for months in the freezer,
making it easy to enjoy a little bit of Christmas all year long.
Here's the recipe:

Sugar Cookies

2/3 c shortening
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 egg
4 teaspoons of milk (I use water instead)
2 cups of sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream shortening, sugar, vanilla.
Add egg, beat till light and fluffy. 
Add milk or water.
Sift dry ingredients and stir in.
Divide dough in half. Chill for 1 hour.
Roll out to 1/8 inch thickness.
Cut into shapes, bake on greased cookie sheet 
for 6 to 8 minutes.
Cool before decorating.
Yield:  2 dozen cookies


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