Thursday, December 8, 2011

Aunt Ethel's Sugar Cookie Recipe

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Although I have no idea who Ethel is, I do know that her sugar cookie recipe is a part of the family.  In December of 1982 when my mother announced that she refused to bake any cookies that required rolling and cutting, and when my father simultaneously begged for sugar cookies just like his mother used to make, I took on the challenge.  At the awkward, yet determined age of 13, I searched through all of my mother's cookbooks until I found a recipe for sugar cookies that my father deemed similar to what he ate as a child.  I then entered the kitchen alone and attempted to make Ethel's Sugar Cookies.  This was my first independent cooking experience and it was a success!

During the last 28 years I have attempted a few other sugar cookie doughs, but have always returned to Ethel's.   The recipe is from the 1977 cookbook Betty Crocker's Cooky Book and shares a page with instructions for Mary's Sugar Cookies, but sorry Mary, Ethel is far superior.  With the exception of 2001 when I had recently given birth to my third child, I have made Ethel's Sugar Cookies every Christmas since 1982.  I have also used this recipe to turn these cookies into shamrocks, Easter eggs, rubber duckies, poke balls, and the state of Texas.  I even made my dad a batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies with red sprinkles and delivered them to the hospital right before his open-heart surgery.

The beauty of Ethel's Sugar Cookies is that the cookies are thick and cakey with just the right amount of sweetness and a hint of vanilla.  The recipe uses both butter and shortening which creates a soft yet sturdy dough that rolls easily with a wooden rolling pin on a board that has been dusted with a combination of flour and confectioner's sugar.  The cookies can either be topped with sprinkles prior to baking or iced with Easy Cream Icing after they have been cooked and cooled.  

Needless to say, my mother passed on her rolling pin and her copy of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book to me when I got married.  The cookbook is now battered and yellowed and easily falls open to page 18 of the section on rolled cookies.  At some point I penned a star next to Ethel's Sugar Cookies recipe, less I become confused and make the mistake of baking Mary's Sugar Cookies.  I also penciled in the measurements for making a double batch of the dough.  I have found that one batch is never enough.  I'm grateful that Ethel and her sugar cookies have joined our Christmas traditions and remain a part of our family.  My hope is that you will invite Ethel and her delicious sugar cookies into your home as well.

Ethel's Sugar Cookies
     adapted from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book  (copyright 1977)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
  1. Mix butter, shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla thoroughly. 
  2. Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together.  
  3. Blend butter mixture and flour mixture.  
  4. Divide dough into 2 discs.  Cover each with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  5. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to sit on the counter for 15-30 minutes, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
  7. On a board that has been lightly floured with a mixture of flour and confectioner's sugar, roll dough until it is 1/4 inch thick.  Cut with your favorite cooky cuter.  
  8. Place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Top with colored sanding sugar, if desired.
  9. Bake 6 to 8 minutes, or until cookies are a delicate light golden color.
  10. Cool on a wire rack.  If desired, decorate with Easy Cream Icing.
Makes 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cutter

Easy Cream Icing

1 cup sifted confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-3 Tablespoons cream, milk or water
food coloring or icing tints

  1. Blend sugar, salt, and vanilla.
  2. Add liquid (cream, milk, or water) 1 tablespoon at at a time until icing reaches a spreadable consistency.
  3. Add food coloring.
  4. Spread on cookies with an off-set spatula.
Makes icing for 3 to 5 dozen cookies, depending on size.

Today I am sharing a post that I wrote last year as a guest blogger at the amazing lifestyle blog, LoveFeast Table.  These gals are not only my real life friends that go way back, but also my bloggy cheer leaders.  During the last millennium Chris Ann, Kristen, and I, along with our ever growing families, gathered at the same table to share amazing meals, nurse babies, chase toddlers, and even time contractions.   Now I love living vicariously through them at their beautiful and inspiring blog.  They are two of the most creative and smart women that I know.  Check out their table and their virtual holiday cookie exchange.  It is sweet inspiration!

LoveFeast's Holiday Cookie Exchange


  1. Sugar cookies! What else would say Christmas better and bring back warmer memories?... Not much!

    Thanks for the smiles :D

    Visiting from LadyBirdLn linky party,
    Suzanne in NW Illinois at WhyCuzICan

  2. yum! I have that same old cooky book except it's a hard back. How fun! I'm looking up this recipe! thanks!

  3. Some sugar cookies are just pretty but not tasty, yours are pretty and look really delicious! I'm going to try this recipe, if you've used it that long, it's a real keeper! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Fun post, such an adorable memory. Theses look yummy. Wonderful old cook book too. Will have to take a look at that cookie exchange. Thanks for linking. Pinning and tweeting this.

  5. I make many baked goods over the holidays but my favorite thing to eat is frosted sugar cookies. These look so homey and delicious! Thanks for sharing on Sweet Indulgences Sunday.

  6. These cookies look and sound amazing. I would love it if you came to link to my holiday recipe swap blog hop. It is my first ever! Love these recipes.
    -Erin Kennedy

  7. Come to A Themed Baker's Sunday for this next week's theme: Christmas! Actually, this theme will continue until Christmas weekend! Hope to see you there!
    Cupcake Apothecary

  8. Your cookies look great! I've been wanting a recipe for cookie icing. I may have to try this!

  9. Heidi ~ You are the best!! Some of my favorite times at the table have been shared with you and your family!! My kids and Kristin's both made these cookies this year ~ it's a memory that keeps living! Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas! ~Chris Ann

  10. Heidi~You inspire me! Every time I try and create a moment for my little Corban, or teach him something, I find myself saying, "What would Heidi do?" Shaving cream letters are still a fav around here and Aunt Ethel's Cookies gave us 2 hours of pure family time last night, teen down to preschooler all crammed in my tiny kitchen. Thank you for your kind words and Merry Christmas! ~Kristin

  11. LoveFeast Friends, thank you! I miss you and your families so much! You are always in our hearts. Merry Christmas!

  12. Heidi, I have the exact same cookie cookbook and I've been making Ethel's Sugar Cookies every Christmas since about 1984 or earlier. This year I've misplaced my cookie cookbook. I came across your blog as I was searching for "Ethel's Sugar Cookie Recipe". Hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas. :D

  13. Yolanda, that warms my heart! I thought I was the only one who was a big fan of Ethel. Hope you find your cookbook, but glad you stopped by Heidi's Recipes. Do you have other favorite recipes from that book? Merry Christmas!