Grandma Kitty’s Christmas cookies A granddaughter shares her cherished family recipe

Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2014

I don’t have many memories linked to smells, but there is one distinct aroma that takes me back.

When I was 6½ years old — those extra six months meant a lot back then ­— we spent the days between Christmas 1996 and New Year’s in my dad’s small hometown, Staunton, Virginia.

I remember climbing up on top of the dryer in the laundry nook off the kitchen at my grandmother’s house and prying open one of the giant, vintage tins stored there to find the glistening cutout sugar cookies Grandma Kitty had baked in all shapes, sizes and colors. While the sight of them mesmerized me, it’s the memory of the soft, sweet, vanilla aroma of those Christmas cookies, decorated and waiting to be eaten, that makes me a little kid again.

That year was the last time Grandma Kitty made the cookies, but my aunt and then eventually my cousins and I took over.

The baking of those simple sugar cookies has since warmed and scented the kitchens of my childhood home, my college dorm suite and now two post-grad apartments for years, but it’s still the aroma of the cooled, iced and sprinkled finished product that gets me every time.

My grandmother’s recipe is the only sugar cookie recipe I use — too perfect to replace — but when I’ve used it for holidays other than Christmas, it feels out of place. Fourth of July stars and flags, with red and blue sugars, give a literal meaning to Christmas in July for me.

It also has become the blueprint for my only holiday-esque cookie in a spread once intended for Santa and Rudolph that now keeps my family and friends on sugar highs through the parties, dinners and wrapping sessions in December. The cutout trees, stockings, snowmen, candy canes — with green and red sugars and multi-colored nonpareils — and dreidels with Israel blue sugar — provide as much color as my holiday cookie jar gets.

The season is so saturated with red and green, that I like to give the cookie swap a break from the traditional and bring a coconut macaroon, a meyer lemon-scented shortbread or almond biscotti along, too.

A Christmas cookie doesn’t need to have antlers or spell out Noel. All that matters is that it is sugary and decadent.

Add a simple chocolate chip (or make triple it for chocolate lovers), a hatch-marked peanut butter or a pecan caramel blondie bar to a dessert buffet to break from the baking crafts all over Pinterest and the like.

Recipes galore

Many food publications have pumped out holiday baking lists and slide shows that began well before Hanukkah’s first candle and will continue through Kwanzaa’s last night.

Food Network even rolled out a competition series for the year: Holiday Baking Championship airs Sundays at 9 p.m. — the finale is this week — and just like years past, its 12 Days of Christmas Cookie e-newsletter is available at

The food magazines at the grocery story checkout line are also a good source for inspiration, as are their websites for step-by-step how-tos — but read the whole recipe before getting out the mixer and flour, as they can be rather involved.

Bon Appétit released its Ultimate Cookie Guide ( in November. It has everything from homemade slice-and-bake cookies to intricately decorated ones, with tips and tricks for everything in between.

Grocery stores and markets are also excellent resources in their own right. Whole Foods not only has its in-store bakery section, but recipes to be made at home on its website,

Or, you can just fall back on Grandma Kitty’s Christmas Cookies and a few of my other favorites.

Sarah Moomaw can be reached at

Makes about four dozen

(depending on cookie cutter size)

2 sticks of butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 egg

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking power

½ teaspoon salt

For the icing:

2 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 to 5 tablespoons milk

1. Mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together. Once mixed, add vanilla and the egg.

3. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the mix. Let the mixer run until everything is incorporated and the dough pulls off the sides of the bowl and starts to stick to itself.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Divide the dough into fourths. If the dough feels cooler than room temperature, no chilling is needed for the first batch, but place any dough not being rolled out in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

5. Roll to ¼ inch thick, and use cookie cutters of your choice to cut into desired shapes and place on a parchment-lined cook sheet. (TIP: I work with two shapes with similar surface area and edges for even baking. Example: trees and candy canes go on separate trays because the candy canes aren’t as wide as trees and will therefore brown more quickly.)

6. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness, or just until set on top and the bottom edge begins to golden. (TIP: Be careful, as these cookies go from perfect to burned in minutes.)

7. Allow to cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then move to a rack, countertop or table to cool completely before decorating.

8. Mix all the icing ingredients together, adding the milk gradually, watching the consistency closely. Glaze should be thick enough so that it does not run off the cookie, but is easily spreadable with a spoon. When dripped back into the bowl, it should dimple and ripple before dissolving into itself. Decorate with desired sugars and sprinkles. (TIP: Clear imitation vanilla extract is available at most grocery stores and can be used instead of pure extract which is brown. The clear extract will keep the icing bright white if not adding additional decorations.)

9. Allow icing to dry for 4 to 6 hours before packing into airtight containers. Packing up too soon will create one giant cookie cluster.

Triple Chocolate
 Chip Cookies

Adapted from the food blog, Smitten Kitchen (

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup cocoa powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 cup packed brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips, overflowing measure

½ cup white chocolate chips, overflowing measure

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

3. With a mixer, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.

4. Beat in the vanilla, egg and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.

5. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Using two spoons or a cookie scoop, place drop cookies with a 1½ inch diameter on prepared sheets, roughly 2 inches apart.

6. Bake for 13 to 16 minutes depending on size. A toothpick should go in easily and come out clean, unless you hit a chocolate chip. The tops should look set.

7. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Chocolate Dipped
 Traditional Coconut

Adapted from Ian Garten (

3 large egg whites, room temperature

¼ teaspoon salt

1 bag (14 ounces) shredded coconut

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extra

6 ounces semisweet or 60 percent bittersweet chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Place egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk. Whip on medium speed until medium-firm peaks form. (Meaning: peaks hold their height, but edges soften.)

3. Meanwhile, mix coconut, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla extract.

4. Once egg whites have stiffened, fold in coconut mixture.

5. Using a dining tablespoon, drop spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake until bottoms are golden and tops are toasted, about 25 minutes.

6. Allow to cool for an hour before eating or dipping in chocolate.

7. Break up chocolate and place into glass bowl or the top of a double boiler. Set over simmering water to melt. Dip, cover or drizzle over macaroons.

Place in refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes to set the chocolate. Store in an airtight container.


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