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December 21, 2007

Sour Cream Cookies
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:12 PM * 34 comments

These were the traditional Christmas Cookies when I was growing up. The cookie cutters were a bell, a star, a circle, a Christmas tree, a candle, and a Santa’s head.

These have been field-tested under a wide variety of conditions, including shipping them to the South Pacific during WWII, where they arrived in good condition.

Herewith, the recipe.

Sour Cream Cookies
(makes circa 5 dozen)

  • 1 cup shortening*
  • 2 cup sugar (scant)
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp lemon or orange extract
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • ~5 cups flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup sour cream

Blend shortening and sugar; add citrus extract, lemon zest, and eggs. Sift together flour, spices, baking powder and baking soda. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with sour cream. Chill, roll out, and cut. Bake on greased cookie sheet in 375° F (moderate) oven for 8 to 12 minutes.

May be frosted with a shortening, powdered sugar, and evaporated milk frosting. Putting egg white in the frosting gives shine.

Or, you could sprinkle them with colored granulated sugar before baking.


*Traditionally Crisco, but I suppose you could use anything.
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Comments on Sour Cream Cookies:
#1 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 03:31 PM:

Here's how to make that powdered-sugar frosting:

In a large bowl, place one Tablespoon of soft butter.

Cream in as much powdered sugar as you can. Then cream in more powdered sugar.

Add some evaporated milk. Then mix in some powdered sugar, to get spreadable texture.

Now add more evaporated milk. Then more powered sugar. Then throw in an egg white. Then more powdered sugar.

Add some evaporated milk. Mix well.

Now blend in more powdered sugar.

Keep going until you have Frosting Sufficient, or you run out of powdered sugar, or you run out of evaporated milk.

Divide the frosting into a bunch of custard cups. Add flavorings and food colors to the individual cups. Use the colored frosting to decorate your cookies. Allow to dry, and there you go.

#2 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 04:06 PM:

Jim,

My standard frosting (more for cakes than cookies) is clearly second cousin to yours. I learned in in California, with American package sizes, but once you know what you're doing it goes anywhere.

Leave a stick† of butter* out of the fridge overnight.

Cream it with about half of a box** of powdered sugar.

Add a dollop‡ of milk and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Mix.

Add the rest of the box of powdered sugar, a bit at a time, mixing as you go, until it's the right texture. (For chocolate frosting, add cocoa powder instead of some of the sugar.)

It can be colored, flavored, or used as glue for gingerbread houses. It forms a slight crust when it dries, keeping whatever you frost nicely moist.

I use it on my devil's food cakes, but it goes nicely on cookies as well.

-----
† Teh Intarweebs tell me this is about 125 g of butter
* salted, oddly enough. Unsalted takes the edge off the frosting
** the canonical box of powdered sugar comes out to about 500g
‡ this is unspecified, because it varies by climate. If you add too much, balance it out with a little extra powdered sugar.

#3 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 05:23 PM:

Nice to see this here as I have cookie dough chilling in the fridge as we speak.

But my powdered sugar frosting is quite a bit less elaborate than either of these:

Put 2-3 tablespoons of light cream in several custard dishes. Add powdered sugar, mixing with fork, until "spreadable" (YMMV). Coloring as desired.

The results have always been satisfactory - it dries pleasantly, has a nice sheen, and tastes yummy.

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 05:28 PM:

"Traditionally Crisco, but I suppose you could use anything."

Vaseline. The medicated kind. Trust me on this. Mmmmm!

#5 ::: Scott Raun ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 05:33 PM:

I'm confused. How can I sift the sugar in with the flour and spices after it's been combined with the shortening, citrus & eggs? Should I just delete the second occurrence of the word sugar in the instructions?

#6 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 05:38 PM:

I think that's supposed to be the soda and baking powder that gets sifted with the flour. (Going by other recipes I've met, here.)

#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 05:41 PM:

The second "sugar" in the instructions should have been "baking powder and baking soda."

Fixed.

#8 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 05:45 PM:

Just as a point, if it calls for shortening, use shortening. You can substitute butter or margarine, but baked goods get noticably heavier and chewier when you do that, and it throws off the baking time, so some experimentation becomes necessary.

Heavy and chewy is good for chocolate chip cookies (for which I always use butter). Sugar cookies are better when they're light and crispy. IMO, of course.

#9 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 06:01 PM:

Our family's version of these eliminates the nutmeg, and for flavoring uses
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. lemon extract (yes, keep the lemon rind)
1/4 tsp. almond extract

They were cut with a scalloped-edge round cookie cutter that was as big as a toddler's hand with fingers spread. It belonged to one of my great-grandmothers and has been jealously passed between my mother, sister and me. I haven't seen it for several years, so it's certainly my turn. It was always sent, regardless of other packing, wrapped in brown paper and tied with white string.

They were made thin and crisp, and sprinkled with white sugar before baking.

#10 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 06:07 PM:

Our family version has vanilla instead of citrus. (And we make a HUGE batch, with 10+2/3 cups of flour.)

#11 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 08:48 PM:

If you want to substitute butter for shortening, you need to compensate for the fact that butter is about 20% water and shortening is 100% fat.

Now that trans-fat free shortening is available, I'm unsure as to whether you'd need to bother unless you wanted the butter flavor.

I'd probably start out 1-1 anyway and expect the texture to be somewhat different. In any event, I wouldn't predict gumminess. Removing a bit of the sour cream might help, but that would reduce the sour cream flavor.

Remember, cooking is an art and baking is a science.

#12 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2007, 09:25 PM:

I've heard that whether you use butter or shortening can make a difference in the way the cookies turn out, but I don't have that information immediately at hand. So I'd say use what the recipe calls for.

(My mother's sour-cream cookies use 2/3 cup butter for 1/2 cup sour cream. Also, no citrus, 1/2 tsp each of nutmeg and cinnamon, 1 tsp vanilla, and 2/3 of the sugar is brown sugar. It worked for us. YMMV.)

#13 ::: . ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 12:32 AM:

;

[posted from 221.227.95.194]

#15 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 02:04 AM:

Baking is only a science if you care about the exact color, thickness, or consistency of your result.

Yes, there are boundaries beyond which you don't want to push your cookies, lest people say "Is this a biscuit?" or "I'll need a spoon to eat that..." or "Your oven is on fire." But they're broad boundaries. If you don't need repeatability, you can perfectly well measure by "some" and "shake".

Also, butter is what dessert tastes like. The butter-bodhisattvas have decreed it.

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 02:24 AM:

Someday I'm going to try these using lard.

#17 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 12:21 PM:

When positioning the cookie cutters, make certain that no one's fingertips are underneath before applying firm vertical pressure sufficient to cut completely through the layer of rolled dough. If this advice is ignored, your dessert planning may require the last-minute incorporation of red pinwheel cookies or even Red Velvet Cake.

#18 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 12:42 PM:

Thank you! My grandmother made sour cream cookies when I was a kid, and they were my favorites. She didn't roll the dough out and cut it though--she rolled it into golf-ball-sized balls, put them on a cookie sheet, then flattened them with the bottom of a drinking glass which she'd dip first in water, then in sugar. The sugar melted during baking, and the cookies came out of the oven with a crisp sugar coating. yum.

#19 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 01:27 PM:

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald

Someday I'm going to try these using lard.

It works. Adjust the amount of flour.

#18 ::: mary

My grandmother ... rolled [the dough] into golf-ball-sized balls, put them on a cookie sheet, then flattened them with the bottom of a drinking glass which she'd dip first in water, then in sugar. The sugar melted during baking, and the cookies came out of the oven with a crisp sugar coating. yum

I had forgotten this trick! My grandmother had a dedicated juice glass for this, which had a heavily embossed star on the bottom.

#20 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 01:37 PM:

Carol Kimball @19 -- My grandmother had a dedicated juice glass for this, which had a heavily embossed star on the bottom.

A few years ago my mom gave me a set of 'cookie stamps', with various Christmas motives. I only used them a couple of times and wasn't happy with the results (dough sticking in the designs). The directions say to dip the form in powedered or colored sugar before pressing each cookie, but nothing was said about dipping in water before that. Maybe it would work better if I added that step. (Any excuse for more cookies.)

#21 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 03:05 PM:

abi's icing is the classic American buttercream.

The addition of egg white makes Jim's closer to an Italian buttercream, but those canonically have a hot sugar syrup beaten into the egg whites and sugar, and then the butter added in afterwards. Perhaps it's more of an enriched version of royal icing, which is mostly egg whites and confectioners' sugar and best suited for gluing gingerbread pieces together, because it's not especially tasty.

Mark D.'s icing is an enriched flat icing, which is confectioners' sugar and water, rather than confectioners' sugar and cream. I use flat icing to drizzle over the tops of coffee cakes and apple turnovers.

The best buttercream in the world is French buttercream, which involves egg YOLKS and sugar syrup.

If you need a chocolate icing, it's hard to beat whipped ganache. (Or unwhipped ganache, if you need it pourable.)

When I make rolled butter cookies (I use the Cook's Illustrated recipe, because it rolls out so nicely) I just sprinkle them with colored sugar. Decorating is not my strong suit.

#22 ::: Maybear ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 09:30 PM:

Our canonical cookie cutters were the horse, the scotty-dog, and the circle (really a biscuit/donut cutter with a removable 'hole'). They were later joined by the bird, and, I think, the star (5 points). We fought over who got to position the silver dragee at the eye of the first two.

The icings discussion reminds me of another icing I saw recently, namely egg yolk cut with a little water, and a couple of drops of food coloring. It's applied before baking, and is part of a recipe often called "stained glass cookies". I need to make some! Of course, I'd need actual counter space, or even table space, and we're just coming off Full Clutter, with Waning Clutter still at least a week away. No, it's not technically a strict schedule, I just Know Us, and that seems to be How We Are.

BTW, the recently-seen recipe is worth a visit, as are its cousins, at The Pioneer Woman Cooks. My Favorite Cookies From Childhood and Beyond, presented in words, pictures, and this lady's illimitable style. Inspirational smart-arsery in the kitchen. Yasher koach.

Oh, yeah, her commenters have almost as much fun as y'all do here. The kidhood cookie cutter discussion, including making Santas into submarines, is great.

#23 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2007, 11:06 PM:

#22 ::: Maybear

Our canonical cookie cutters were the horse, the scotty-dog, and the circle (really a biscuit/donut cutter with a removable 'hole')...

The icings discussion reminds me of another icing I saw recently, namely egg yolk cut with a little water, and a couple of drops of food coloring. It's applied before baking, and is part of a recipe often called "stained glass cookies"...

When I was a kid, we made cookies painted with the colored egg yolk. You can get lovely effects but the hard, unsweet skin formed is disappointing.

If you want REAL stained-glass cookies, get yourself a bag of hard, clear candies (sourballs) and smash them up in a sturdy ziplock. Use your biscuit-cutter and make any kind of rolled cookie with a hole in the middle. Bake it almost done on foil or something else that will peel off, then carefully spoon a layer of the crushed candy into the center and return to the oven until the cookies are done and the candy has melted into a translucent sheet. It's been years since I've done this, but it doesn't take much experimenting as long as you don't expect to nail it the first try. If you can't find sourballs the right color, you can cook a sugar syrup to hard crack, let it cool slightly, and tint it with food coloring. You do still want to crush the stuff rather than try to get it into little spaces when it and the cookies are at the right stage.

You can make windows for gingerbread houses the same way. Roll thin snakes of dough for the "leading", remembering that they'll bake much faster (duh). I engineered a three-story Charles Addams gothic mansion one year, set on a covered piece of plywood with a hole drilled through it for the interior lights. The wrought-iron tracery for the ridge lines and lightning rods were piped royal icing (make five or six times as many as you'll need as they're fragile). It was maybe 30" high.

#24 ::: . ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 09:47 AM:

Spam, though tasty potted meat,
Should not past comment'ry repeat.

[posted from 80.252.252.187]

#25 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 03:30 PM:

Spam on sour cream cookies?

Sounds nauseating.

#26 ::: Seth ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 12:28 AM:

I have a wowquaintance who explains the general recipe for adding the Secret Ingredient to all cookie recipes:

1. Increase cooking temperature by 25%
2. Decrease cooking time by 50%
3. Serve with fork and steak knife

I asked if the secret ingredient was Love and she explained that no, it is Efficiency.

#27 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 01:35 AM:

Thanks so much for that, Jim!

The cookies worked out beautifully with 2.5 of the cups being whole-wheat flour and the sour cream being replaced by fat-free yogurt. Oh, and we chopped up the lemon rind (rather than zesting it), making for delightful bursts of flavor. Yum - about five dozen yums, in fact.

#28 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 03:02 AM:

I made these today, and they're very tasty (although not like my grandmother's and therefore always faintly surprising).

I do have one question, though -- does anyone know the secret to getting the frosting all even and perfect? Ours are pretty globby.

#29 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 07:02 AM:

Kate @29, if you mean spreading frosting evenly, try using a butter knife. The very best shape is the type that's not flat; i.e., the blade is lower than the handle, rather like a spatula. You can spread frosting very accurately with the back of one of those, but normal butter knives work fine, too.

If you mean that globby = lumpy, then don't neglect to sift your powdered sugar.

#30 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2007, 02:25 PM:

rikibeth,

(I use the Cook's Illustrated recipe, because it rolls out so nicely)

is that the "glazed butter cookies" on the cook's illustrated website? i've been asked to make butter cookies as part of cookie gift tins, & i've never made them successfully.

if you recommend those ones for an experienced though unfancy baker, i'll definitely give them my email address or whatever for the 14-day trial subscription.

#31 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2007, 12:08 PM:

miriam beetle #31, yes, I think so. I haven't got the website subscription, I've got my back issues stuck in 3-ring binders, and it's November/December 2003, "Easier Holiday Cookies," with the reverse creaming method.

The dough is very nice to work with, and keeps shape well.

#32 ::: Honeybee ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 07:54 PM:

Looks like above they missed the good stuff for that frosting .
Its no milk,canned milk or water for the liquid , use powdered sugar ,room temp butter, low fat sour cream for the liquid , then add vanilla and a few grans of salt talk about yummy,if want chocolate add cooled melted dark choc or heat a dab of water add desired cocoa stir but use as little water as can (powdered cocoa tastes raw needs to be heated ).

#33 ::: Honeybee ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 08:04 PM:

To spread the frosting you need a spreader it is kinda flexable and has no design on it that make prints on frosting you do not want there and comes in smaller and larger sizes "a table k. is a very poor substitute."

#34 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 05:37 PM:

Pip has become the traditional sour-cream-cookie maker in our house.

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