My grandmother had quite a knack for baking. Most do, but none, I’m sure, could make anything that rivaled her sugar cookies. The time and care she devoted to each one somehow seemed to make them taste even sweeter, even more delicious.
Naturally, she was known well beyond our family for these sugar cookies. And apple pie—also a force that froze us in awe. Come the holidays, she put special cookie cutters to use and packaged the palm-size Christmas trees and snowmen in flashy tins, which were doled out liberally.
What made her even more special to me was that she never treated her recipes or process like closely-guarded secrets. There was always a batch of dough waiting within easy reach every time one of her 12 grandchildren visited. As soon as I was tall enough to see the top of the counter (with the aid of a small stool), we started spending entire days together in her kitchen. To this day, I remember feeling like the luckiest girl when she encouraged me to use her rolling pin to roll out the dough.
Together, we’d sprinkle every last cookie with shimmering, colorful sugar and candies. But the height of the experience was sitting down with her at the kitchen table and savoring the fruits of our labor. We dove into that small pile like we were starved, biting off a mouthful from the first cookies we could grab and letting all the pleasant sensations warm us from the inside out: crunchy, sweet, buttery. She washed hers down with tea, mine, with milk.
Not surprisingly, the obvious love my grandmother filled that kitchen with sparked my own passion for baking. And when I felt I was ready for my first job, she led me into our local bakery.
I’m grateful that she was there when I graduated from culinary school, but I wish she could have seen me open a bakery of my own. Still, Sweet Elizabeth’s helps me feel more closely connected to her. And during the holidays, she’s with me for every tray of piping-hot sugar cookies I slide from the oven. In her spirit, I’m sharing the recipe with you here.
Holiday Sugar Cookies 8 ounces butter 2 cups sugar 3 eggs (room-temperature) 2 teaspoons vanilla 4 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder ½ teaspoon salt
Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture turns a light yellow and takes on a fluffy consistency. Then, add the eggs one at a time. Scrape the bowl in between each one.
Next, sift the dry ingredients and add the mixture to the mixer. Mix on low until the flour is incorporated. You may need to scrape the bowl in the midst of mixing.
Press the resulting dough into the shape of a disc and wrap it in plastic wrap. Then, let it chill for at least a few hours. At that point, let the dough warm up a little—too much and it’ll become sticky.
Use as little flour as possible to roll out the dough. That will keep your cookies buttery and crisp.
For the icing 1 pound confectionary sugar 4 egg whites Pinch of salt Dash of vanilla
Mix together all of the ingredients using the whip attachment on low. Once the sugar is incorporated enough to not fly out of the bowl, scrape the bowl down and run the mixer on high for four to five minutes, or until the icing holds stiff peaks.
You can use food coloring to tint the icing any color you want. It’ll go on easiest with a piping bag, which will also give you enough control to create fun, seasonal designs.
The icing’s going to dry hard in a few hours, so cover the bowl with a wet paper while you’re applying it and scrape the sides of the bowl down often. Store the extra in an air-tight plastic container with a wet paper towel in contact with the icing. It’ll stay good refrigerated for up to two days.
Elizabeth Paradiso is the co-owner (with her husband, Owen Paradiso) and baker of Sweet Elizabeth’s Cakes, 4409 Main Street, Manayunk; 267-331-8949; www.sweetelizabethscakes.com.