Baking Holiday Cookies Isn’t Just About the Cookies

I think about my mother a lot during the holidays because there’s a lot to remember and a lot to miss. My mother was not only “the queen of good-byes,” she was the “queen of the holidays.” If you are missing a loved one this holiday season, too, you might be interested in reading an earlier post with twelve tips for getting through the holidays. Here’s the link.

As I’ve written about before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Christmas comes in a close second.

My mother knew how to put on a good Thanksgiving. Her Christmases weren’t too shabby either. To this day, I marvel at how she made it all appear so easy.

One of the very first things to mark off her Christmas to do list was making her famous holiday-shaped, rolled-out sugar cookies. It was a production that took time, skill, patience, know-how, stamina and of course a secret family recipe. (Keep reading to grab it.) She insisted upon rolling out her sugar cookie dough as thinly as humanly possible.

“The thinner the better,” she’d always say. “The perfect sugar cookie must be thin, crisp and a delicate golden brown.”

Some of my friends’ mothers made thick, chewy sugar cookies, but I always knew they were not the “perfect” cookie.

Always, and only for Christmas, my mother made a double batch of her special rolled-out sugar cookies, and the kitchen counters and table would become a sea of fragile, golden cookies waiting for the finishing frosting process to begin.

My three siblings and I always helped with the frosting part. That was a painstakingly slow process that could not be hurried and seemed to take forever. Each cookie was gently and meticulously frosted (using not just one color, but several) with almost surgical skill and care so as not to break it (of course many were broken, but we got to eat those!) each one ending up being like a work of art. Well, almost.

Every year, after our assembly-line cookie production was finished, the cookies were stashed away in the basement freezer like hidden treasures. When the time finally arrived for them to be brought out, they would be displayed on crystal trays for all to admire, marvel at and, of course, indulge in. Mother carefully rationed them out to last as long as possible, which usually meant until my older sister’s birthday on January 2nd.

I’ve continued making my mother’s rolled-out, frosted sugar cookies every single year since I left home. I don’t particularly enjoy making them. Too much work. I don’t even really like eating them all that much. Too sweet and no chocolate. Plus, I got sick on the dough one year after eating too much of it, so that’s likely the main reason they’ve not been my favorite since.

They might not be my favorite holiday cookie, but I make them because doing so is another way to remember my mother and a whole lot more. And my family loves them!

After all, baking holiday cookies isn’t just about the cookies.

Here’s my mother’s (which is really my grandmother’s) secret recipe for the best ever rolled-out sugar cookies.

best ever rolled-out sugar cookies! #holidays #baking #recipes #family #cookies #christmas

The Best Ever Rolled-Out Sugar Cookies 

Sift together:  (true confessions – I don’t actually own a sifter, so I don’t sift…I just throw dry ingredients together in large bowl)

  3 cups flour  

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup sugar

Cut in 1 cup soft (not melted) butter until particles are fine

Add 1 slightly beaten egg

Add 3 tbsp cream (sometimes I add a tad more, but just a tad)

1 tsp vanilla

Blend thoroughly (I use my hands. Kids love this part!)

Divide and form into three balls and flatten them a little for easier rolling out later

Refrigerate dough for a while

Roll out as thinly as you wish on floured board

Cut into desired shapes

Bake at 400 degrees for 4 min. & then start checking often. They brown quickly after 4 minutes!

Cool completely

Frost as desired (I mix together powdered sugar/cream/vanilla/food coloring to desired consistency)


Happy baking!

What’s something you do during the holidays to carry on a tradition or memory of a loved one?

What’s your favorite holiday cookie to make or eat?

Just for fun, do you prefer thin and crispy sugar cookies or thick and chewy?

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My baking assistant these days. #holidays #baking #cookies #Christmascookies
Ninja, my baking assistant these days. Pets love the holidays too!


23 thoughts to “Baking Holiday Cookies Isn’t Just About the Cookies”

  1. Those are some lovely cookies – good on you for keeping up the tradition. I just bought some molasses to try my hand at gluten-free gingerbread. I have memories of watching my grandmother make these each year and hand them out as gifts. It’s about the memories, isn’t it? And maybe it’s good we’re occasionally forced to slow down and focus on one cookie at a time. (?)

    In any case, a lovely post! ~Catherine

    1. Catherine, I love molasses cookies and I have an old recipe for those from my grandma too, but I can’t seem to ever get those to turn out. I gave up on them years ago. It most definitely is about the memories. Good luck with your gluten-free gingerbread cookies. I bet they’ll be great. Thanks for sharing, Catherine.

  2. As a child I remember there was always a HUGE box of Navel oranges straight from the grower on Christmas morning (via Santa, of course). I live in AZ and the Navels are ripe at Christmastime. Now my mom has one Navel tree, and she mentioned the other day that they were ripe…mmmmmm…I think I’ll stop by and pick one!

    1. Shelli, How wonderful to be able to pick your own oranges from your very own tree or from your mom’s. That’s a real plus for living in AZ! Thanks for sharing that great memory too, Shelli.

  3. So evocative! We have a family cookie baking tradition as well, anise cookies frosted with seven minute icing and decorated with colored sugar. My dad grew up making them, as I did and my now young adult sons. Sharing the process this year with three generations, including my mom (diagnosed 3 years ago with IIIC ovarian cancer). I thought about skipping this year — so much effort and time — but am so glad I came to my senses. Sharing the process with my parents husband and kids is a blessing. Think I will be making them every year going forward, come what may. And — they are thick and cakey, on purpose. The reminder is always, “don’t roll it out too thin!”

    1. Linda, Isn’t it funny how we get used to having our cookies thin and crispy or think and “cakey”? I love how your reminder comment is the exact opposite of what my mom always said. It is really special for you to be able to enjoy making the cookies with three generations – a blessing indeed. Enjoy the holidays and your cookies! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I love crispy cookies! These look really similar to the cookies we used to make and paint as a child. We called them “Painted Sugar Cookies.” I haven’t made them in a while, for the reason you state… they take a looong time to decorate! But Xmas cookie baking is still my favorite holiday tradition. This year I made Chocolate Rum Balls, Snickerdoodles, Rugelach, Molasses Spice and a 7-Layer chocolate, butterscotch and coconut confection.

    Thanks for sharing your recipe. It’s one of the best ways to share!

    1. Renn, I’ve never heard cookies being referred to as being painted before. That’s great and actually seems pretty appropriate when I think about it. It is a real skill to decorate them. We used to frost tiny and extra delicate candle shaped ones with various colored frosting and they were the absolute worst. I never had enough patience to do those. Sounds like you are well stocked on the goodies. They all sound wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. Thank you for the photo! I was waiting and hoping there’d be one. I never bake sugar cookies. As you say, no chocolate. So my Christmas gift to my mother-in-law is to let her take over the kitchen and bake her sugar cookies with the boys. It’s a generous act of kindness on my part. You’d understand if you knew my mother-in-law. But, one day, I will attempt your recipe and claim it as my own. Thank you for sharing. Happy Holidays to you, my friend!

    1. Stacey, I like your plan. I think you must have a wonderful mother-in-law by the sound of it! If you ever do try my recipe, be sure to let me know how things turn out. Thanks for commenting and happy holidays to you too, Stacey!

    1. Heidi, I don’t know what springerie is/are?? It’s nice to have those traditions to carry on. But at the same time, it’s perfectly fine to not carry on with them when one is just not up to it. When you were not, it was lovely of your sister to send you some. Fantastic present indeed! Thanks for commenting.

  6. Didn’t have time to do my rosettes this year. My Grand son helps me and we have the break it eat it rule too!! Your Mother was a wonderful baker, decorator and celebration creator. My first Christmas alone and away from home she sent me a box of goodies. It was much appreciated. One of her last healthy Christmases she sent her sister Francie a big box of Christmas cookies. Francie was recovering from her stroke. I remember how much Francie appreciated them. So she made Christmas special for many!!!

    1. Betty, She was a wonderful baker for sure. I didn’t know she had sent you that box of goodies back then. I’m not surprised though. I do remember the one she sent to France and she also did the same for Lindsay on her first Christmas away from home. Thanks for the lovely comment and for sharing a memory. And don’t feel bad about not making the rosettes – maybe you can do it later.

  7. I used to decorate to the hilt and bake and bake. I’ve cut back so much since cancer as I really struggle with fatigue. My oldest daughter seems to have taken the lead on the big holiday family gatherings and although it is a relief, I also feel a little bad about that. It’s like that part of the holidays is getting passed on to the next generation far too soon.

    1. Elizabeth, I’m sure your daughter doesn’t mind taking the lead. I’m sorry you can’t do what you used to and your feelings about that are understandable. Wishing you and yours a peaceful and pleasant holiday. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  8. I feel the same way about the cookie traditions. I’m waiting for my daughter to finish school so we can bake mom’s orange juice cookies. They sound awful but are delicious, like little cakes. We stopped by the cemetery during Christmas shopping tonight, to say hello to Mom. We will miss her so much this year.

    1. Kate, It’s lovely that you continue the cookie baking tradition of your mom’s and it’s so very touching that you stopped by the cemetery to say hello. This Christmas will be bittersweet for you. I’ll be thinking about you. Much love. xx

  9. Diagnosed with metastatic cancer this week so you know what that means. I’ve always loved baking cookies especially at Christmas. My mother-in-law used to call it her stress reliever. Spritz and molasses ginger cookies are a couple of my specialties. Even though my time is now shortened I’m going to bake as long as I can:

    1. Sandy, I am sorry to learn about your metastatic diagnosis. That sucks. As for the Christmas cookies, I’m not sure I love baking them, but I can’t imagine not doing it. I love spritz and molasses cookies too. I don’t make molasses though, as they never turn out. Hope you enjoy your baking this year. Thank you for sharing. I’ll be thinking about you.

  10. I am of Norwegian heritage, so I make sandbakkels, rosettes, and krumkake. And of course cut out sugar cookies. But they have to have pink frosting because that’s what great grandma always did. Almost forgot, my caramel corn. It’s my signature treat. As I age, my back starts to ache, so I do all the baking over a couple days.

  11. My mother used to have a Christmas Cookie Party which we, her daughters, went to as servers. She invited her friends and instructed them to make 100 cookies. then we passed the cookies around, telling each lady at take 3 or 4 cookies. The women just sat there and chatted away, drinking a holiday punch. It was a very fun party. I had a few of those parties and had my children pass the cookies out. It was a new experience having Boys hand them out, but my wild child always made it fun. Unlike Mom’s generation, women worked, didn’t have time to cook, complained about 100 cookies (!) or asked if they could bring store-bought. I gave it up, but I still have delightful memories of those parties. Happy holidays, Nancy!

  12. My mom didn’t bake or cook for that matter. I love to cook but baking has never been my forte. Found a satisfactory solution. A local group of charitable organizations has a huge bake sale annually to raise much needed funds. I go every year and buy at least 100! I’m very charitable!! . If they are too pretty I mess them up a bit ultimately passing them off as the fruits of my hard work!! Everyone knows but it produces a good laugh. My newest daughter in law joined me this year so she can “show off” at her family get together. She swore me to secrecy since her sister always rubs it in her face that she can’t cook. It’s a good family secret.

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