These simple sugar cookies with frosting, a staple in my family, include a secret ingredient to make the perfect cookie.
The holiday season is upon us, and for me that means it’s time to bake my Grandma’s sugar cookies and decorate them with colorful frosting. In the family cookbook, the recipe is titled Chanukah Cookies, but don’t let that name pigeonhole the recipe. These simple sugar cookies have a special ingredient that makes them extra soft and, of course, can be cut out in any shape you desire for the occasion.
I could spot one of Grandma’s cookies from a mile away. The first trait I notice is the pastel frosting decorating each shape. Candles on the menorah shine with a pale yellow glow and dreidels dance with pink and light blue embellishments. This is an easy detail to remember, because my cousins and I were always involved with helping to decorate the cookies when we were young. Three or four at a time, we would toe up to the kitchen counter armed with cookie decorating devices resembling caulk guns and pipe the frosting around every edge of each cookie until they were masterpieces. Then we would promptly devour as many cookies as possible.
Underneath that sweet, creamy frosting is a thick, soft cookie. Grandma’s special ingredient, a touch of sour cream, makes the cookies extra moist. While the frosting is very sweet, the sour cream mellows out the sugar and brings the cookie’s taste into perfect balance. With the gentlest bite, you enjoy the texture, flavor, and love baked into each cookie. I’d swear I can taste those pastel colors, too.
When it was time to bake Grandma’s cookies this year, I decided to try something a little different. Instead of all-purpose flour I used Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour, and in place of the sour cream, plain nonfat Greek yogurt. These small changes produced a cookie with the same texture and taste as Grandma’s while allowing me to pretend that they were marginally healthy (okay, I know they’re really not, but a girl can dream).
I have a very methodical system for making and decorating sugar cookie cut outs. After the cookie dough has been prepared, I lay out a big piece of plastic wrap on my work surface and scrape the dough into the center. I fold the plastic wrap around the dough and press it into a flat slab before placing it into the refrigerator for ten minutes.
When it’s time to roll out the dough, I liberally flour my work surface. Since I don’t have a lot of kitchen counter space, I line my kitchen table with parchment paper and work there. Roll out the dough to ¼-inch thickness using a rolling pin, then cut out your desired shapes and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. While one batch is in the oven, I work on cutting out the next round of cookies. When I’ve used up all of my dough, I simply ball up the parchment paper and my table is clean!
While the cookies cool on a wire rack, I prepare the frosting. Divide the frosting into small bowls and add food coloring to each bowl– this year, for the first time ever, I deviated from family tradition and made (gasp) green frosting! Each color of frosting is then transferred to its own sandwich sized plastic bag. Again, I cover my workspace with parchment and arrange the cooled cookies on the parchment to minimize mess and clean-up. To decorate, cut the very tip of the bag’s corner off to create a small opening to squeeze out the frosting (or, if you’re fancier than me, use a proper piping bag and tip).
All that’s left after frosting the cookies is to pour yourself a cold glass of milk and enjoy each bite of deliciousness.