This time next week our kids will be counting the hours until winter break, and we will be filled with equal parts excitement and terror at the thought of our kids being home for twelve. whole. days. I don’t know about you, but I will be hoping for snow and above-zero temperatures for lots of outdoor play! Alas, we live in the Midwest, so chances are there will be indoor afternoons, as well.
I loathe imaginative play but love to bake, so making holiday treats is a great way to spend some quality time together. Enter my mom Nancy’s sugar cookies. They are the best sugar cookies.
Whenever someone boasts that they have ‘the best’ of anything, I am suspect. The best spaghetti? According to whom? The best chocolate chip cookies? That’s a bold claim! So when I say that my mom makes the best sugar cookies, I mean it. Soft. Sweet. Perfect for little ones to handle while decorating.
The secret may be the shortening. For science-y reasons related to the way it melts at a different rate than butter, shortening helps the cookies hold their thick shape rather than spreading out and the baking powder takes it from there.
Do I use real butter for most everything else? Absolutely. But trust me on this one: Shortening.
When you’ve baked the cookies and whipped the frosting, cover your kitchen counter or table as you would to prep for a construction site or large painting project, because it’s about to get messy! Give the kiddos a butter knife, cookies, frosting, and sprinkles galore, and set them free with their imagination.
Pink Christmas Trees? Yes! Blue Santa shapes? Why not?!
If you’re a control freak like me, this is hard at first. Breathe. You are not a contestant on Holiday Baking Championship, and your kids will love the freedom to douse obscene amounts of sprinkles, choose their own colors, and lick their fingers. Their attention spans will last approximately 23 minutes, and it will take 15 minutes to clean up, but in 20 or so years, they will call you and ask for your sugar cookie recipe because your cookies are just the best.
- ½ c. shortening (remember, don’t hate on shortening)
- 1 c. white sugar
- 1 egg
- ½ c. milk
- ½ t. vanilla
- 3 c. flour
- ¼ t. salt
- 3 t. baking powder
- 1 lb powdered sugar
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
- 2 t. vanilla
- 3-4 T. whole milk
- food coloring
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine the shortening and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer (or a large bowl with a hand blender will do) and beat until light and fluffy.
- Add egg and beat to combine.
- Add vanilla and milk and beat to combine.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add to the wet ingredients and mix to combine.
- Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for one hour.
- Roll out on a lightly floured surface approximately ¾” inches thick. Cut into desired shapes and place on baking sheets.
- Bake for 9 minutes, or until edges are just golden brown.
- Let cool on the pan for 5 minutes and then move to wire racks to cool completely before frosting and decorating.
- Beat together the sugar and butter until smooth.
- Add the vanilla and milk and beat to combine.
- Add more milk, 1 T. at a time, if needed to reach desired spreading consistency.
- Add desired food coloring and mix thoroughly (you can separate into smaller bowls to make smaller batches of various colors—I usually let my daughter choose the colors for her batch).
- Note: I like to make the frosting as the cookies cool, but you can also make it ahead, refrigerate, and then bring to room temperature before spreading.