Through the years, dear friends have arrived bearing beloved kitchen tools and small appliances to entrust in my care. I've become the guardian of kitchen orphans. My family of orphans have become a part of my life through deaths, divorces and transatlantic moves. I feel like I'm cooking with old friends when the orphans are hanging out on my kitchen counter.
Memories of each person flood my thoughts each time I use them. The sight of D's copper pot immediately puts a smile on my face when I think of his wry sense of humor. His response to learning about his cancer diagnosis was, "Well, that's enough to piss off the Good Humor man." J's chinois reminds me to be kind in my own marriage. His ex-wife wanted me to have it after they divorced. T and E's insanely gorgeous espresso machine was born out of their tryst in Italy. It came home with them to New York. Somewhere during that time their fondness for espresso waned, but their love for each other endured. "We know you'll take better care of it than we did," they told me. I think of the conversations that were had during those times in their kitchens.
I would love to have been a fly on the wall when the the cookie cutters I use were in the hands of their original owners. Granny Carol (born on Christmas day) and her friend Kitty lived next door to each other for decades. As they all got older and their husbands passed away, Carol moved into the flat upstairs from Kitty. Their kitchens were connected by a back staircase. I don't know whether they baked their holiday cookies together upstairs or downstairs. I do know that Carol's Christmas tree and Kitty's dreidel cut-outs are packed in the same tin in my kitchen. Both gals would have been over 100 if they were still baking cookies together.
In recent years, our family tradition has been to make cut-out cookies on Christmas Eve. That's the time that we have found that whatever is done is done and nothing else matters except that Santa must have a snack waiting for him when he squeezes down our chimney. The conversations are priceless, as are the cookies. We leave just enough for Santa and his crew.
Cut-Out Butter Cookies
Adapted from Jude
Friends Who Bake Together Stay Together
This recipe is adapted from my dear friend Jude. When I first met her over 20 years ago, she already had a longtime tradition of making these cookies over Thanksgiving weekend with her best friend. They still do! The flavors of the dough and icing taste so homemade, they can only come from a love-filled kitchen.
(Yields approx. 3 dozen)
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
For Creamy Icing:
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
3 cups powdered sugar
3 or 4 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very pale and fluffy (several minutes). Add egg and vanilla and combine well. Blend in dry ingredients slowly (to avoid flour-bombing your kitchen). Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Form it into a disk and wrap well. Chill dough for at least two hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface. The thickness should be about 1/4 inch or less. Cut your cookies in small batches to prevent creating warm and sticky dough. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes or until they get just a hint of color. Cool completely before decorating.
To make the Creamy Icing: Using an electric mixer, beat all the ingredients at high speed until smooth and creamy. Add more milk if the icing is too stiff. Spread onto cookies with a small metal spatula. Add any decorating sugars and other embellishments to the cookies before the icing dries.
Jude says...do not sift the flour before measuring. If you are going to chill your dough overnight, she recommends to use a good quality margarine over butter. She once broke a rolling pin because the dough had become excessively hard in her fridge. At Thread & Whisk we are devoted to butter, so we recommend allowing the dough to sit on your kitchen counter for 20 minutes before rolling out to avoid broken rolling pins.