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Holiday Sugar Cookies

When I ask my 20-something-year-old sons about their all-time favorite memories of childhood, baking cookies as a family is at the top of their lists. Over the years, we have collected many recipes for holiday cookies, but this one, from my mother-in-law Mary Daly, is the best. These cookies make excellent holiday gifts or a centerpiece for a party. Confronted with a platter of these colorful cookies, guests alternate between thinking they look too good to eat and diving right in to bite off a chocolate head.




2/3 cup unsalted butter

¾ cup sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon grated orange peel

1 egg

4 teaspoons milk

2 cups flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt


  • In a mixer, thoroughly cream the butter, sugar, vanilla and orange peel.
  • Add the egg and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  • Stir in the milk. Sift together dry ingredients. Stir these into the creamed mixture, blending well.
  • Divide the dough in half. Put each ball of dough in a piece of floured wax paper and store in the refrigerator for at least an hour, but can be kept for weeks.
  • When you’re ready, take one dough ball out, warm it briefly in your hands until it is pliable, and then place it on a floured counter. Roll it out so the dough is about 1/8 inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters. Some of our favorites are reindeer, dogs, musical notes, moon, dog bones, and mother, father and children shapes.
  • Bake cookies on a lightly greased cookie sheet in a 375-degree oven for about 8 minutes. (Watch them!) Cool and then decorate.
  • Glaze: In little ramekins, pour about a half cup of powdered sugar, with a drop or two of milk, and then a few drops of a different food coloring in each, until you get a consistency that will spread on a cookie. Go very slowly, adding liquid to the sugar. You can also melt chocolate to decorate such things as the base of the tree, the fur of the dog, the horns on the reindeer, or the pants of the father. Some cookies look like Jackson Pollock stopped by to add some colorful splatter, and others have the careful, folk-art approach more suggestive of a visit from Grandmother Moses.