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:
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.
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:
1 1/2 sticks of butter
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.