Grandma’s Holiday Cookies {a/k/a Cut-Out Cookies}

Grandma's Holiday Cookies ~ by My Utensil Crock!Very. Special. Recipe. Alert!

I had not had these cookies in probably 25 years, but when I made this batch and took one bite, I was instantly transported back to my early teens. I don’t have many Proustian madeleine moments, but this was a big one. Totally back in Indiana, complete with peg-rolled jeans and intense bangs that were re-styled with a butane-fueled curler and hairspray in the middle school cafeteria bathroom every day during lunch.

Ah, the early 90s. I really felt it.

Grandma's Holiday Cookies {Cut-Out Cookies}

And then I ate like 3 more cookies.

Grandma's Holiday Cookies {Cut-Out Cookies}

Not celebrating Christmas myself, I missed out on the fabulous tradition of making Christmas cookies. But the cookie culture was strong at SC’s house, who was a very close family friend. SC’s mom would visit from Buffalo, and these cookies were always on the agenda. I remember special buckets for them – I mean, these could have just been SC’s regular buckets, but to me they always held these cookies. I loved to help cut out the cookies and decorate them. When I made this batch, I smiled the whole time. They rolled out so nicely, and cooked so quickly. I bought a box of gel food coloring with all sorts of fun colors, and pulled out my little clementine crate that holds my baking decorations.

My job totally gets in the way of all of the fun I could have in my kitchen. I have said it before and I will say it as many times as you will read it: my baking cabinet is one of my favorite parts of being an adult.

I remember marveling at SC’s mom not using a recipe. WHO DIDN’T USE RECIPES?? No one in my family, for sure. Someone who makes recipes hundreds of times. Even when I asked SC for the recipe for this post, the frosting recipe came without measurements, just ingredients.

Grandma's Holiday Cookies {Cut-Out Cookies}

Luckily, there is a recipe. And a hand-written one at that! {insert emoji with hearts for eyes}

Grandma's Holiday Cookies {Cut-Out Cookies}

I asked SC for some of her memories of these cookies, and here is what she shared, in her words. As a disclaimer, it is completely unfair of me to have asked someone to put such a memory into words, but acknowledging that there is always more, I think she certainly did it justice.

Memories just keep flooding my brain. Harder to put into words than I thought.

Things that pop into my head are:
My birthday
Buffalo winters; snow, snow, snow
Helping make the cookies
Christmas get togethers

My mom always made these cookies for my birthday treat for school. I would bring the cookies to school in a shirt box. I can still remember walking up and down the space between the desks letting my classmates pick their favorite shape!

My birthday, about a week before Christmas was the start of my mom’s holiday baking. Seems there was always a blizzard during that time.  I remember the kitchen being so warm from the oven, the windows steamed and cut out cookies everywhere.  I loved to eat them warm right out of the oven.

Of course we loved to help actually do the cutting out of the cookies.  We picked out our favorite cookie cutter, mine was the tree, my sister liked the bell. My mother would patiently let us help her. I remember the counters being covered with cookies in various stages of cooling and frosting drying. We loved to help with the decorating too, especially the sprinkles!!

During the holidays we went visiting to see our cousins Christmas Trees and gifts. My mom always brought a tray of cut outs every place we visited.

When people dropped in to our house the first thing my mom did was put out a plate of cut out cookies. They were a perfect pairing with coffee or tea or hot chocolate!  Everyone loved cut outs!

My mom stored her cookies in huge Tupperware containers. I remember quietly sneaking in to wherever she put them to quietly open the container and help myself to a cookie or two! {Note: I definitely did this too, at SC’s house.}

When the boys were little my mom was making these cookies for most holidays. She would mail a box to our house, the boys loved to get the cookies in the mail.

It’s funny. Because I don’t celebrate Christmas, I didn’t gravitate toward the Christmas shapes like trees and bells, so I would make other shapes. When I went to make the cookies for this post, I mentioned flowers and hearts to friends and was met with blank stares. I guess that’s only my memories, not a collective Christmas cookie memory! {Quietly eats all flower cookies by herself.}

BUT, these cookies are really ideal for any occasion, and since rediscovering this recipe, I have started amassing quite a collection of cookie cutters. And Valentine’s Day is not far away at all… 😉

Grandma's Holiday Cookies {Cut-Out Cookies}

Grandma's Holiday Cookies {a/k/a Cut-Out Cookies}
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Dessert, Cookies
Serves: several dozen cookies
For the cookies:
  • 1.5 t baking soda
  • 2 T milk (I use skim milk)
  • 1 c unsalted butter (2 sticks), slightly softened
  • 2 c sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1.5 t cream of tartar
  • 4.5 c flour (plus .5 c more for rolling out the dough)
  • 1 t table salt
For the icing:
  • 1 c unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 5 c powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 t vanilla
  • .25 c milk, warmed in the microwave (I use skim milk)
Prepare the Cookies:
  1. Place the baking soda and milk in a small bowl, and stir to dissolve the baking soda.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, add the butter and sugar. Mix until they are very well-incorporated. Add the eggs and mix again, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically.
  3. Add the baking soda and milk mixture, and the vanilla, and mix again.
  4. Add the cream of tartar, flour, and salt, and mix until everything is incorporated.
  5. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, or transfer to a container with a snap-tight lid, and refrigerate overnight.
Make the Cut-Outs and Bake the Cookies:
  1. When you are ready to make the cookies, liberally dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour. Don't be shy! You don't want the dough to stick once you have made your cut-outs.
  2. Heat the oven to 400 and prepare a few rimmed cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Take a handful of cookie dough and roll it out, adding flour as needed. I like to keep a small plastic spatula nearby to loosen the dough from the counter. If you can flip the dough before you cut out your cookies, you are in good shape!
  4. Roll the dough to be less than .25" thick - if they are thicker, they will still taste good, but they may not be recognizable after they bake! - and cut out your shapes. Place them on the cookie sheet at least an inch apart.
  5. Bake for 6-10 minutes. They may bake very quickly, depending on your oven and how thick the dough is.
Make the Frosting and Frost the Cookies:
  1. In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until it is smooth. Add the powdered sugar, mixing as you go - add the powdered sugar slowly, so it doesn't poof all over the kitchen!
  2. Add the vanilla, and beat until the icing has a uniform consistency.
  3. Add warm milk, one Tablespoon at a time, until the icing is smooth and the right consistency to spread. You most likely will not use the full .25 cup.
  4. Decorate your cookies as desired! I like to separate the icing into several small bowls and add different food coloring to each, so I have them all ready at once.
The widget that formats these recipes can't be altered, but the timing here is: 10 minutes to mix the cookies; refrigerate overnight; 30 minutes to make the cut-outs; 6-10 minutes to bake; and decorating time to your heart's content!

Happy Birthday, SC! So many thanks to you for sharing the recipe and your memories… and your mom over the years. What a lady!

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