My mother’s little sister– a living, breathing version of Snow White– was suddenly and completely dead serious when I asked for her sugar cookie recipe. The smile evaporated from her voice, the birds stopped singing at her window, the woodland creatures could go to hell for all she cared; this was serious business.
“If I give you this, you have to promise that you’re going to follow it. You’re not going to make changes or substitute things. Butter means butter. White flour means white flour. When I say rotate the pan, you rotate the pan. Got it? I need you to promise me you’re going to follow them and not act like your mother.”
I rolled my eyes at her through the telephone. All I wanted was a recipe. But where Ms. Crocker and Mrs. Fields fall flat, my Aunt Ann is a genius…so I didn’t argue. Her sugar cookies are impeccable. They manage to be perfectly soft without being doughy and undercooked in the middle. The light vanilla flavor is just sweet enough to make it treat without making a visit to the dentist necessary. And somehow they manage to never crumble and seem to never get hard. They’re present at every holiday party, family wedding, baby and bridal shower, iced and decorated so there is just the tiniest pang of guilt that surges through my system before I destroy the little piece of art.
I needed to know how to make them. She could have my pound of flesh if I could have her secret. With a hard gulp, I meekly agreed to her proposal, my voice barely audible through the receiver.
Pleased that she’d instilled the proper amount of fear, she rattled through the instructions and promised to email them to me as well to make sure I didn’t miss a thing.
I thanked her profusely, but I hung up with a heavy sense of dread. I was Flick at the schoolyard flagpole and she’d just triple dog dared me to lick it. I, apparently like my mother, have a difficult time following directions especially when I’m told that I cannot deviate from them. I figure, I almost always end up at the right place –even if a few detours are involved, so what’s the big deal?
I set out to make the cookies after a trying day—even though the dough needs to sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (though overnight is best)—with the hope that I could end it on a positive note. I pulled the recipe from the box above my stove and set to work, cutting the recipe in half since I didn’t have 5 ½ cups of flour…but I had 2 ¾ cups. Strike one.
I should say here that I hate cooking with butter and I will almost always sub in Crisco when baking since I think it makes for a fluffier cookie and it’s easier to mix since it’s always soft…sorry, Ann. I whipped the Crisco and started to add in other wet ingredients.
When it comes to halving a recipe with 3 eggs, I crack them all into a measuring cup, stir and measure out half. I’ve tried dumber methods – this works better.
Before adding in the dry ingredients, I reached for the vanilla extract to find the vile empty.How am you supposed to follow directions if you don’t have everything the directions call for, genius? I thought to myself.
I looked down at the bottle and read the label, looking for answers. Vanilla extract is 41% alcohol–so sub in alcohol! I looked to the bottles eying me from the top of our refrigerator—bourbon would be it. It have to do. The bottle was nearly empty anyway.
This was no longer my aunt’s cookie recipe. The strong vanilla flavor would be replaced with the lemony, honey of aged Kentucky Bourbon. This was something much, much different…and definitely not for baby showers.
So, I swapped her ingredients for mine. Vanilla replaced by Bourbon—Basil Hayden’s is what I keep, but I suppose any old good Kentucky Bourbon would do. It’s is a small batch bourbon that has about two times the rye of other bourbons. I love the light finish with its little bit of spicey peppermint and honey — it really gets my blood boiling without the burn that a lot of other bourbons have. It’s the kind of stuff that makes me want to curl up in front of a fire and have my hair rubbed. I threw in an extra dash for good measure.
I packed up the ball of dough and stuck it in the fridge and set to the icing where I used the bourbon again…only a bit so it’s just enough for flavor but no where near enough for a head ache.
The next morning I rolled the cookies out (the secret here is to keep the dough thick) and cut them with the rim of a wine glass…because I of course don’t have any cookie cutters. Circular cut-outs seem silly, but a cookie is a cookie as far as I’m concerned!
It will turn out almost cake or bisquit like — and what the cookie lacks in sweetness, the icing more than makes up.
Here’s my version (the whole thing, you can half if you’d like):
Bourbon Sugar Cookie Dough Icing
- 5 1/2 cups of flour 1/2 C butter (icing should have butter…)
- 1 t salt 1/4 C half & half
- 1 T baking powder 3 C confectioner’s sugar
- 1 C Crisco 2 T bourbon
- 2 C white sugar *I like to garnish with bourbon sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 C half & half
- 2 t bourbon
Combine flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.
Cream together the Crisco, sugar, half & half, eggs, and bourbon until fluffy. Mix on high about 1 minute. Add dry mix in gradually until completely mixed. Scrape dough into ball and refrigerate in greased gallon bag for at least 4 hours (over night is best if you can stand to wait).
Preheat Oven to 350. Lightly flour counter surface and roll dough to at least ¼” thick and cut. Cook 5 minutes, rotate pan. Cook 5 more minutes. Let cookies set on tray for a minute or two before removing—cool completely before icing. Yields about 32 cookies.