Monday, December 22, 2014

Grandma's Sugar Cookies

Christmas is, for me, probably above all other things, a time of comfort food.

My father abandoned my mother and me when I was seven, leaving us a mountain of debt and not much else. Doing what was necessary to survive, my mother became a real estate agent. The hours were long and uncertain, and there definitely were no vacations. Luckily, my grandparents were around, so the long breaks (summer and winter) were often spent with them.

Summer generally meant exploration, tooling around the country in a Dodge van converted to a camper. Summers I expanded my horizons, saw new things, and and learned. Summer was Indian fry bread at  various pueblos, carnitas in small cafes, and Canadian pizza.

Winter was about warmth, and comfort, and family. It was a time of deep, rich, satisfying flavors, like my grandfather's exquisite prime rib roast, or roast turkey with sage stuffing (my number one comfort food). And the desserts, oh the desserts! My grandmother's desserts were amazing. Pumpkin and apple pie, homemade mincemeat pie, Christmas steamed pudding, popcorn balls in red and green, date nut porcupines. But, the number one important ritual of the season was making sugar cookies.

And what a production it was! On sugar cookie day, we made enough for ourselves, for me to take home, to give to friends, take to holiday parties, gift to carolers, and otherwise spread around. I'm pretty sure Santa got a big plate set out for him every year. One batch of dough makes 4 - 5 dozen cookies; I bet grandma made four batches.

Grandma made the dough, rolled out and cut out the  cookies, and did the baking. I had two jobs. One was decorating the cookies. We generally had a wide variety of things to work with; green and read sugar, rainbow dots, chocolate sprinkles. silver balls, and cinnamon candies, I now understand part of my  grandma's frustration, having made a batch all by myself. I tended to treat each cookie as an individual work of art, my grandmother wanted me to just mass produce a tray and get on with it.

My other job was sorting the cooled cookies by shape. Long rows of Santas, trees, stars, reindeer, wreaths, and more.

Almost all of the bonding with my grandmother was over food, and no ritual was deeper or more fulfilling than the sugar cookie marathon.

This recipe is for thin crispy sugar cookies. They are light and crunchy, a perfect accompaniment to coffee, tea, or milk.

My grandmother used a pastry cloth to roll them out on. I use my marble slab. It is important that the surface be well floured, and flour the rolling pin as well. You want them just as thin as you can get them. I roll the dough out until it is translucent, and I can just see my marble through the dough.

Sugar Cookies

3 cups AP flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream shortening. Add flour mixture a third at a time, creaming together.

While whisking eggs, slowly add sugar. Whisk until smooth, Add vanilla paste, and whisk in thoroughly.

Add egg mixture to flour mixture. Run mixer at medium speed until well combined. 

Form into a ball, and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Working with a small amount of dough at a time, roll out on a well floured surface until very thin.

Cut to desired shapes. Transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet.

Sprinkle cookies with granulated (white) sugar. Decorate as desired (colored sugar, jimmies, dots, etc.)

Bake for 5 - 8 minutes, until light brown.

Transfer to a cooling rack.

Happy Eating!

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