When I was growing up, my family had a rule: no Christmas before Thanksgiving. We weren't allowed to get a Christmas tree. We couldn't listen to Christmas music. And we certainly couldn't mention any presents we might want.
All of that was no biggie, really. The only hard part about waiting for Christmastime to start was that we couldn't eat my mom's holiday sugar cookies. They were, and remain, addictive.
Rolled out until they're about as thick as a cell phone, formed into holiday-themed shapes with metal cookie cutters that discolored decades ago and painted with simple, colorful frosting, my mom's cookies are golden and toasty on the edges and the bottom, while the center is pliable and chewy. Fragrant and nutty, they're delicious fresh out of the oven but just as good the next day, after they've been stored in a crinkle of foil and placed in a tin.
My mom inherited the recipe from her parents, who discovered it written on the inside of a kitchen cabinet in a house they purchased in Charleston, South Carolina, a half-century ago, around when my mom was in college. What the heck, my grandmother figured. Why not give them a try?
I forced my mom to digitize the recipe some years ago, because the paper upon which her version had been written had yellowed and torn like a priceless ancient scroll. I've never made the cookies myself, out of fear of screwing them up, but she recently gave me permission to share the recipe with you.
I will just emphasize that the chilling step is important. It improves the cookies, and also gives you the chance to pull off small nuggets of cold dough to eat. For me, that's not just a flavor of the holidays. It's the flavor of the holidays.
Cooper's Mom's Sugar Cookie Recipe
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Powdered sugar, sifted
Half and half
1. In mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix. Stir in vanilla and dry ingredients.
2. Wrap dough in foil and chill in refrigerator for at least four hours or even overnight. Optional (but not really): After dough has begun cooling, eat hunks of raw cookie dough.
3. While dough is chilling, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Roll out dough and cut into shapes with holiday-themed cookies cutters. A bell shape is my favorite because it is very big, but still only counts as one cookie.
5. Bake cookies on baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 6-8 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on wire rack.
6. While cookies cool, make icing. Whisk sifted powdered sugar, food coloring and half and half into smooth, thick, spreadable liquid. (There are no measurements here. Sorry. You're just going to have to eyeball it.) Use spoon to spread icing on cooled cookies. Wait until icing has set before serving.