Heirloom Sugar Cookies

My grandmother made the world’s best sugar cookies. I’ve never tasted any like them, ever. Her cookies are soft, moist, and delicate. Because I grew up eating these, I have been spoiled and don’t care for the harder sugar cookies most people seem to make. The key ingredient is buttermilk, which makes for a soft dough, but is also responsible for the texture and flavor. Because of the soft texture, you need to make this dough, then freeze it completely before you attempt to roll it out and cut it out. There are many family stories about this. One year my aunt took the entire batch out to a table set up in the garage and rolled them out in the garage where the dough would stay cold. The first time I attempted it, I didn’t freeze it long enough and I ended up with a huge mess.  The other trick is picking the right cut out shapes. The dough spreads and softens as it cooks, so many shapes become unrecognizable. I’ve found that stars work quite well. Candy canes also work. Santas, snowmen and trees tend to just blur and become blobs. My grandmother often just made these as circles.

As my Christmas gift to you, dear readers, I’m going to share this special family recipe.

Gai’s Sugar Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

4 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Alternate adding dry ingredients with buttermilk. Freeze the dough for several hours. Roll the dough out using lots of flour on the counter and on the rolling pin because it will stick if you aren’t careful. Roll this out a bit thicker than you would with regular sugar cookies – you want it to be about a 1/2 inch thick. Flour the cookie cutters. Place on silpats in a oven preheated to 375 degrees. Bake for 10-12 minutes. You want to take them out when the bottoms are just beginning to brown.  Don’t let the top of the cookie get brown or it will be too hard. Let them rest on the baking sheets until cool and then remove them.

I usually make a simple frosting of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and milk (which you can color with food coloring if you want different colors) and then we decorate them with colored sugar. As you can see in the photo, my kids really get into it!

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21 Responses to Heirloom Sugar Cookies

  1. Sheryl says:

    There is nothing more wonderful than the aroma of cookies baking in the oven. I used to make cookies with my grandmother as a child, and those times are some of my best memories!

  2. marthaandme says:

    My grandmother baked several times a week and made these cookies throughout the year. I loved coming home from school to these fresh out of the oven!

  3. Alexandra says:

    Thanks for sharing this recipe. I will print it out and make these cookies when my daughter comes over the weekend.

  4. marthaandme says:

    Let me know how you like them!

  5. Frugal Kiwi says:

    I have to admit my past sugar cookie exploits have been less than fabulous. I’ll try these next time.

  6. pen4hire says:

    It is wonderful to be able to keep heirloom recipes alive. I use my own grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe which uses sour cream and a pinch of nutmeg. Now my grand daughter (and this year, grandson, too) is helping roll the dough and decorate. “Wow!” I think.”five generations.” You can see pictures of our cookie party on my facebook page if we’re friends.

  7. marthaandme says:

    My grandmother also made these with sour cream instead of buttermilk sometimes, but it’s not quite the same. I’ve seen a lot of Scandinavian recipes with sour cream and nutmeg. I love that yours has been going for 5 generations. My daughter just made a batch of these last night to take to school and I thought how pleased my grandmother would be.

  8. Kerry says:

    I’d be tempted to eat some while they were still warm, I think…
    thanks for the Christmas gift of the story, and the recipe.

  9. Exciting! THANK YOU FOR THIS GIFT. I can’t wait to try these.

  10. wow, I was just looking for a sugar cookie recipe. But we are about to travel and I won’t be able to make these in time for the holidays. Still – I’ll save it and try it later in the winter. I love the idea of soft sugar cookies – yum!

  11. juusan says:

    Sour cream, eh? That’s intriguing – I may have to try that out. My grandmother always said that in order to make the best chocolate cake, you needed to use sour milk. I guess sour dairy just adds a new layer of flavor.

  12. marthaandme says:

    Interesting since my other grandmother’s best choc cake ever is made w/ Miracle Whip!

  13. marthaandme says:

    And just to add another little story – my aunt just made this and had a total disaster because she tried to use half margarine and half butter. My grandmother used to use margarine years ago (in the 40s and 50s) but switched to butter. I guess margarine has changed over the years and no longer works like it used to.

  14. Thanks for this recipe! My mother had one baking specialty and that was her pumpkin pie. She said she never could bake cookies, and she didn’t even try.

  15. ReadyMom says:

    Wow, I had fully planned to make the oatmeal cookies you posted a few weeks ago, but now I’m very tempted to try this…I’m such a sucker for sugar cookies. Maybe I’ll just have to make both! I don’t have any buttermilk, tho, would soured milk work okay?

  16. Love it! I wish Christmas weren’t so near as I’d try these, but maybe I’ll do it for Valentine’s day!

  17. marthaandme says:

    I have never tried it with soured milk. You could substitute sour cream though definitely.

  18. Alisa Bowman says:

    What a nice gift to us! Thank you for this. I just discovered how fun it is to bake with my daughter. I’ll put these on the list!

  19. These sound great. I bet them smell wonderful baking.

  20. Donna Hull says:

    Cream of tartar and nutmeg are the ingredients that make my sugar cookies special. I’ll have to try yours, too.

  21. Jessica says:

    Thanks for the recipe..I will be having my niece over this weekend to bake and decorate and I will for sure try out your recipe!!

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