Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Aunt Ester's Sugar Cookies: or Why Santa Doesn't Matter

Aunt Ester's Sugar Cookies are Christmas. Santa, Baby Jesus, St. Nick--Aunt Ester could whup them all in a fair fight.

Aunt Ester's cookie legacy is more than I can ever hope to achieve. They come out of darkest Ohio, floury and dry, but incredibly soft. The frosting is tooth-numbingly sweet, and the crunch of colored sugar completes the experience.

For a still-cooking Aunt Est(h)er, click here.

The Cookies are fairly involved, so let's get down to business:

Aunt Ester's Sugar Cookies
(Makes about 6 dozen large cookies)

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup Crisco
1/2 cup butter (The recipe calls for Oleo, but we use butter nowadays. The Crisco is non-negotiable.)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add and fully incorporate:
2 eggs

In a separate bowl, combine:
5 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add the dry ingredients, alternating with 1 cup sour milk (made by combining one teaspoon vinegar per cup of warmish milk). The dough should be soft and sticky.

Chill overnight.

The Mom still mixes the dough and the frosting, but The Sister is in charge of the rolling and cutting of The Cookies. I'm not sure why, she just is. Someone has to be the Keeper of The Cookies in each generation, and she's it. I observed her carefully this year to pass along the recipe to you (something she had some qualms about--apparently she had some latent plans to "sell those babies.")

Roll out one third of the dough to about a quarter-inch thick. Use lots of flour, the dough will be sticky. Quickly cut shapes from the dough using cookie cutters of your choice. We use a battered set of aluminum cutters which are also non-negotiable when it come to The Cookies. Slide them onto ungreased cookie sheets (removing them from the counter with a spatula if necessary) and pop them into a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes. They should be ever-so-slightly golden on the bottom and very soft. Repeat until you've used all the dough.

After they've cooled, slather the cookies with:
Buttercream Frosting

1 1/2 sticks of butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 cups of confectioner's sugar
about 1/4 cup of condensed milk (enough to get the right consistency--very thick but just spreadable on delicate cookies)

Smear it on thickly, and quickly sprinkle colored sugar onto The Cookies in artistic patterns. Use food coloring to dye a quarter cup of each color of sugar by grinding in a drop or two of each color with a fork.

Immediately consume the first cookie you decorate. Moan with delight. Christmas has arrived.

Note: These are the ideal cookies to leave out for Santa, because when the sugar soaks into the frosting if they sit out for a bit, and the crunchy carapace that forms is fantastic.


Mags said...

Dear Ms. ToastPoint:

Okay, I'll see your Aunt Esther's cookies and raise you my grandmother's famous "White Cookies." Oleo? My cookies use lard. Real Christmas cookies use lard.... (of course the family vegetarians won't touch them anymore and make a sad substitute with all margarine). And of course, I have also have frosting issues. I spent years trying to replacate the frosting on the cookies of my best friend's grandmother "Da". The answer is in using table cream (sometimes called light cream). Da would be so proud, although she was not always happy with me as I often led my own "Goose" astray. Mind you, she was always more than willing to go...

Well, those Christmas cookie traditions are etched in dough, n'est pas? Are there going to be any cookies coming home from the beach? Or will they all get consumed in an effort to keep your sugar levels up? I suppose I'll have to bring some of my traditional cookies over when you get home. And then there's the fudge, which as I recall The Sister is particularly fond of....

Happy Baking!

Mags said...

Dear Ms. ToastPoint:

I tried to send a comment but it seems to have gone into cyberfoodblogspace... Hm.. So I guess I have to try again.

Okay, as far as Aunt Ester's cookies go, well, I'll have to see them and raise you my grandmother's "white cookies." Oleo? I scoff at Oleo. Read Christmas cookies are made with good old-fashioned lard. My grandmother always used lard and so do I. (Of course the family vegetarians can't eat these--more for the rest of us--and make their own inferior version with margarine.)

I also have icing issues. I spent years trying to duplicate the icing on the frosted Christmas made by my best friend's (my own "Goose") grandmother, "Da." I finally landed on using table cream (sometimes called light cream) to replicate the creamy, melt in your mouth icing goodness. Da would be proud, although she often thought I was a bad influence on my friend, alway leading her astray. Mind you, she was always only too willing to be led astray, which Da tended to overlook...

Well, Christmas cookies are all about family traditions, it's true! And do you plan to bring any of these cookies home from the beach, or will they all get eaten up in an effort to stay on a sugar high while vacationing? I guess I'll have to bring over a bunch of my family's traditional cookies when you get back. And then there's the traditional fudge, which as I recall, is a particular favorite of the The Sister.

Happy Baking!