The Ghost Of Cookies Past

I feel like I need to make a confession, or else suffer a guilty conscience the rest of my life. You see, I have decided to retire my mom’s traditional sugar cooky recipe.

Every year since 1975*, my family has made Soft Sugar Cookies for Christmas.

*I can say “1975” with confidence since it is written right on Mom’s recipe.


My mom got this recipe from Partyline, which was a talk show (in the 1970s) on our local AM radio station, WBBW. Vince Camp was the host, and the entire show consisted of people calling in with recipes, cleaning tips, and other household information. It was basically a broadcast version of “Hints from Heloise” with some recipes thrown in. Vince was great with the recipes and seemed genuinely excited about them. He would let each caller give their recipe and tell something about it, then he would encourage them to repeat the ingredients list because listeners were actually writing it down. You couldn’t just go Google that shit. You had to get it right the first time. Sometimes, if a recipe was really popular, he would repeat it on a subsequent show for anyone who might have missed a crucial step. We were Not Allowed To Talk when mom was copying a recipe from Partyline.

Apparently, there was even a cookbook published in the late 1980s. I wonder how that would go over in today’s legal climate.  A bunch of people call in to share their recipes with a limited broadcast audience, and the host ends up publishing them all in a cookbook? Hmm.

Anyway, this was the recipe we have made every Christmas since I was four. Literally. We have made it so many times that the copy you see above is not even the original. My mom had to rewrite it at least once, probably two or three times, due to the inevitable doom of paper recipes in a greasy kitchen. I am proud to say that I wrote the ‘refrigerate” (with mis-matched quotation marks) at the bottom. You can also see that it originally called for butter, but my mom switched to margarine somewhere around 1978. We later went with half butter, half margarine. As an adult, I use all butter, because margarine? Eww.

Nostalgia aside, though, I have always thought this recipe made cookies that were heavy, flat and somewhat uninspired, but it was tradition and I didn’t want to face the fact that our family’s traditional cooky recipe was pretty crappy. Especially since it might be in Vince Camp’s cookbook, and I am pretty sure Vince is a good guy (even if he stole a bunch of people’s recipes and sold them for profit).  Rather subconsciously, I have been keeping my eye open for a superior recipe.  I tried one or two over the last few years when we needed cookies for parties (though I have never dared to substitute another cooky at Christmas time!)  But, this year, I broke with tradition.  I finally admitted what I’ve known all along, and now I have a New Cookie Recipe.  And I hope my kids are still making it in 38 years, because it’s pretty darn good.

Sugar Cookies (From Joy Of Baking)

  • 3 cups (390 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla

Mix the three dry ingredients together (I like to whisk them) in a bowl.  In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  My mixer takes about 2 1/2 minutes to do this.   Add the eggs and vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract) and mix until combined and smooth.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until you have a nice, smooth dough.  Put it in the center of a piece of plastic wrap, wrap tightly, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F (177 C).  Get your cookie sheets ready: I have had good success with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  DO NOT grease the cooky sheets or you’ll have a mess.

Roll out some of the dough to about 1/4″ (1 cm) thick.  Cut out shapes as desired, put them on the sheets with a little room for them to spread.  They don’t rise overly much, but they do need a bit of elbow room.  When cooky sheet is full, bake for 7-10 minutes, depending on size of cookies.  They will appear just slightly brown at the edges.  When you can see that, remove them immediately from the oven.  Let cool on a rack and frost or decorate as you like.

Now I have to look for a replacement icing recipe.


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