Christmas cookies

Frosted Sugar Cookies


We’re a week out from Christmas, and everybody is in the spirit! After a lot of general interest in the Christmas tree, lights, and shiny decorations, Gatsby has settled back into his routine — although he loves taking naps under the Christmas tree.

Frosted sugar cookies are one of my two favorite Christmas treats (and really, holidays in general — there’s never a bad time to make them). Not fancy, but always a hit.

A few random musings about sugar cookies:

1. Santa prefers his cookie with a Diet Pepsi, and a carrot for Rudolph. He’s had enough milk, thankyouverymuch. Time for a late-night caffeine jolt.


2. Don’t waste your time with royal icing. If you don’t care about eating the end product, just impressing people with fancy, pristine works of art, knock yourself out… but the reason these cookies are so popular is that the frosting actually tastes good.


3. I make the frosting by feel, not precise measurements. Have plenty of powdered sugar and some extra milk on hand, and adjust accordingly.


4. They freeze well. In fact, you might even prefer them that way.

A few years back, my brother asked me to bring sugar cookies home for Christmas. He picked me up at the airport, and on the drive home started munching on the cookies. When I asked how they were, he said, “They’re okay, but they’re not crunchy. Mom’s are crunchy.” He was clearly disappointed. He had no idea he’d been eating frozen cookies all these years, and the texture changed at room temperature.

5. The best-tasting cookie is either a star or a Christmas tree shape, decorated with rainbow nonpareils. End of discussion.

Frosted Sugar Cookies

Cookies from Betty Crocker; frosting my own

Makes about 4 dozen cookies, depending on size

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, if desired
1 egg
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk (or more)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch salt
2 cups powdered sugar (or more)

Food coloring, decorating sugars and sprinkles, as desired

In large bowl, mix powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and egg until well blended. Stir in flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 375°F. Divide dough in half. On lightly floured surface, roll each half of dough 1/4-inch thick. Cut into assorted shapes with cookie cutters. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 7-8 minutes or until light brown. Let cool 2 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. (Allow pans to cool between batches.)

In a medium bowl, cream the butter. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until smooth and spreadable, adding more milk or powdered sugar to reach desired consistency. If desired, tint with food color. Frost and decorate.


Candy Cane Cookies

This blog post isn’t for you.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love you to love these cookies.

But this really isn’t about you. It’s about my grandma, Evelyn, and the most sought-after, fought-over treat she makes.


Two weeks ago, Evelyn celebrated her 90th birthday. I was so happy to be back in Nebraska celebrating. Evelyn is a quintessential farm wife who grew up in Nebraska during the Depression. Well into her 60s, she was still driving farm trucks and helping out on the farm (Update: my dad informs me she was “pushing 80” when she finally gave up driving trucks, and noted that she still brings out supper during harvest sometimes). To this day, you’ll still see her overexerting herself in her garden and flowerbeds.

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If there’s such a thing as a genetic sweet tooth, there’s no doubt I inherited it from her. The cookie jar and candy dish were never empty. She’d often say, “I think we should have dessert first, so we’re sure to have room.”

Every Christmas, Grandma made plates of holiday cookies and candies for family and friends. Of all the treats you might find on that plate — peanut butter blossoms, divinity, sugar cookies, fudge — the first to disappear on our plates was always the candy cane cookies. There were never enough. We’d beg her to only make candy cane cookies and cut out the rest, or at least make a double-batch. I don’t think we’ve ever succeeded.

On Christmas Eve, we had to be the first ones to our grandparents’ house, not so that we could inspect the presents under the tree (although my brother did plenty of that), but in hopes of sneaking an extra candy cane cookie. If she delivered cookie trays to our house or wanted us to come pick them up, I angled to be part of the transaction. I’m surprised these cookies have never used for outright bribery or gambling.

Grandma thinks she’s had this recipe at least 50 years. The first time I asked for the recipe, I had to call and ask her what a “slow oven” was (around 300 degrees).

Just yesterday, she confessed to me that she likes making the cookies, but doesn’t like frosting them. “Do you want to come over and frost these for me?” she asked. Note to family members within driving distance: missed opportunity!



The irony is that these cookies are the antithesis of a Christmas cookie: they aren’t buttery, gooey, indulgent, glittery, or magazine-photo-worthy. They’re dry and rather plain. Outsiders don’t get it. An in-law politely said, “I’m not really fond of them.”

I’m more than okay with that. These cookies are nothing special, and that’s precisely the point.

Besides, that means more cookies for me.


Candy Cane Cookies

Yield: 18-24 cookies

1 c butter, softened

2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 c powdered sugar

2 Tbs. water

2 1/2 c flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 c oats

For powdered sugar glaze:

1 1/4 c (or more) powdered sugar, sifted

2-3 Tbs. (or more) milk

Red food coloring

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream butter and vanilla. Add powdered sugar; blend well. Add water, flour, salt and oats. Mix well. Shape into canes and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 300 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until set and lightly toasted. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Combine 1 cup powdered sugar and milk to make a glaze to desired consistency. (The thinner your glaze, the more it will be absorbed into the cookie.) Dip cookies in glaze and place on waxed paper to set.

With the remainder of the glaze, add red food coloring and a few more tablespoons powdered sugar to make a thick glaze. Spoon glaze into a Ziploc bag, snip the corner, and pipe stripes onto the cookies.