Grandma Great's Sugar Cookies



[A tale of baking with the Kid, last Christmas, among other things.]

The best thing about baking with my grandma was that she was never very scrupulous about scraping every last drop of batter from the mixing bowl. As she said when I commented on it one time―spooning up globs of chocolate brownie batter as I spoke―“Grandma's prerogative!”

As many memories as I have of baking with my grandma, though, I can only remember making Christmas sugar cookies with her twice. The first time I was so little that the only reason I remember is because someone took a picture. The second time I was a college freshman in need of baking lessons and cheap presents for my friends.

No, I think she almost always baked her sugar cookies before we grandchildren arrived. Then, after carefully icing them, she stacked them between layers of wax paper in a set of old, tin baking dishes. Thus protected, they waited happily in her freezer until the morning before a special meal, when she'd move them to her garage to thaw.

I know now that it was just clever prep work, but for a time I thought Santa's elves must just leave cookies in my grandparent's garage. Hey, if you'd grown up with my grandpa's convincing tales that the red light on top of their city water tower was Rudolph's nose, you might have believed in cookie elves too!

My grandmother hasn't made Christmas sugar cookies for many years now, but thankfully I inherited her recipe box. When I got a craving for some of her cookies earlier this month, it only took a little digging to find the right card.

As with all her recipes, the source of the recipe was penciled on the top right corner. This one simply said, “Mother”, which quickly made me a bit misty-eyed. There's something quite warming about making cookies with your great-grandmother's ("Grandma-Great's") recipe.  

Once I had a chance to dab my eyes, the Kid and I set to work.

And I quickly understood why my grandma always prepped her cookies ahead of time. Baking sugar cookies with a toddler is not for the faint-hearted.  In addition to making a good, old-fashioned mess, the Kid also ingested more raw dough than even my grandmother would have allowed.

But, while perhaps not as clean as having elves magically drop a batch off, we ended the day successfully with a freezer full of cookies to tide us through the holidays. Just in case you don't have one of your own, here's my great-grandmother's sugar cookie recipe.

Christmas Sugar Cookies (makes about 4 dozen cookies, depending on size)


For the cookies

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup shortening (or butter)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • ½ Tablespoon lemon extract

For the icing

  • 2 Tablespoons shortening (or butter), at room temperature
  • approximately ¼ cup milk, at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • food coloring
  • sprinkles (optional, but if you're going to make a mess, go big or go home)


In a large bowl, sift together the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour. In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Mix in the egg, milk, and extracts. Then, slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet.

Chill the dough in the fridge for at least an hour before continuing.

When the dough is chilled, pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees. Roll the dough out on a floured countertop. Cut out shapes, then place the cookies on a bake sheet and into the oven for about 12 minutes. When they're done, you'll be able to see just a hint of brown on the edges, but no more than that.

When the cookies have cooled, mix the icing ingredients together, adding just enough milk to get a glaze consistency. Divide the icing, and use food coloring to make different colors. Then, carefully spoon the icing over the cookies.  Top with sprinkles, then allow the icing to set up before storing.

Stacked with a piece of wax paper between layers, these cookies will last about a month in the freezer.