Aunt Ethel’s Sugar Cookies

Today we invite Heidi, from Heidi’s Recipes to join us at the table!  Heidi is a talented kitchen cook who knows how to keep her family, friends and kitchen warmed with hospitality.  Through the years we’ve enjoyed everything from iced tea to sugar cookies at her real life table!  Today we are so glad to have her and Aunt Ethel join us at our “virtual” table! ~Chris Ann & Kristin

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Although I have no idea who Ethel is, I do know that her sugar cookie recipe is a part of the family.  In December of 1982 when my mother announced that she refused to bake any cookies that required rolling and cutting, and when my father simultaneously begged for sugar cookies just like his mother used to make, I took on the challenge.  At the awkward, yet determined age of 13, I searched through all of my mother’s cookbooks until I found a recipe for sugar cookies that my father deemed similar to what he ate as a child.  I then entered the kitchen alone and attempted to make Ethel’s Sugar Cookies.  This was my first independent cooking experience and it was a success!

During the last 28 years I have attempted a few other sugar cookie doughs, but have always returned to Ethel’s.   The recipe is from the 1977 cookbook Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book and shares a page with instructions for Mary’s Sugar Cookies, but sorry Mary, Ethel is far superior.  With the exception of 2001 when I had recently given birth to my third child, I have made Ethel’s Sugar Cookies every Christmas since 1982.  I have also used this recipe to turn these cookies into shamrocks, Easter eggs, rubber duckies, poke balls, and the state of Texas.  I even made my dad a batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies with red sprinkles and delivered them to the hospital right before his open-heart surgery.

The beauty of Ethel’s Sugar Cookies is that the cookies are thick and cakey with just the right amount of sweetness and a hint of vanilla.  The recipe uses both butter and shortening which creates a soft yet sturdy dough that rolls easily with a wooden rolling pin on a board that has been dusted with a combination of flour and confectioner’s sugar.  The cookies can either be topped with sprinkles prior to baking or iced with Easy Cream Icing after they have been cooked and cooled.

Needless to say, my mother passed on her rolling pin and her copy of Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book to me when I got married.  The cookbook is now battered and yellowed and easily falls open to page 18 of the section on rolled cookies.  At some point I penned a star next to Ethel’s Sugar Cookies recipe, less I become confused and make the mistake of baking Mary’s Sugar Cookies.  I also penciled in the measurements for making a double batch of the dough.  I have found that one batch is never enough.  I’m grateful that Ethel and her sugar cookies have joined our Christmas traditions and remain a part of our family.  My hope is that you will invite Ethel and her delicious sugar cookies into your home as well.


Ethel’s Sugar Cookies

adapted from Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book  (copyright 1977)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

  1. Mix butter, shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla thoroughly.
  2. Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together.
  3. Blend butter mixture and flour mixture.
  4. Divide dough into 2 discs.  Cover each with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  5. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to sit on the counter for 15-30 minutes, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
  7. On a board that has been lightly floured with a mixture of flour and confectioner’s sugar, roll dough until it is 1/4 inch thick.  Cut with your favorite cooky cuter.
  8. Place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Top with colored sanding sugar, if desired.
  9. Bake 6 to 8 minutes, or until cookies are a delicate light golden color.
  10. Cool on a wire rack.  If desired, decorate with Easy Cream Icing.

Makes 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cutter

Easy Cream Icing

1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1-3 Tablespoons cream, milk or water

food coloring or icing tints

  1. Blend sugar, salt, and vanilla.
  2. Add liquid (cream, milk, or water) 1 tablespoon at at a time until icing reaches a spreadable consistency.
  3. Add food coloring.
  4. Spread on cookies with an off-set spatula.

Makes icing for 3 to 5 dozen cookies, depending on size.

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Thank you Heidi, from Heidi’s Recipes, for sharing your recipe at our table!

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Join the Conversation!

  1. I inherited that same book from my mom and this is the same recipe I always use! :) Thanks for sharing!

  2. Oh wow, such a coincidence that I ran across your post today! I borrowed my mom’s cookie cookbook and it just so happens to be the same one you used here (Betty Crocker). Mom recommended Ethel’s sugar cookies so I used that recipe, then I noticed the other recipe on the page and though, I wonder what differences there are. So here I sit covered in flour but very full of sugar cookies. Ethel’s recipe produces crisper cookies and Mary’s recipe produces more cakey softer cookies (my mom had also starred Ethel’s recipe ;) So anyways, lovely post although I am a little wierded out that I was unknowingly making these at the same time you were posting about them… small world :p

  3. Thank you for sharing this! The sweetest part is that my Grandmother’s name is Ethel, so these will make me think of her everytime I make them!

  4. Wow! I can feel the Ethel love! I had no idea that anybody besides me even had this $2.95 cookbook. An oldie, but a goodie!

  5. These sugar cookies really do sound like the best ones ever and you decorated them so pretty too. By the way, I’m holding a giveaway on my blog for Orglamix Organic makeup and you’re welcome to come by and enter. http://sweet-as-sugar-cookies.blogspot.com/2010/12/orglamix-organic-mineral-makeup-review.html

  6. Wonderful recipes to have, especially for Christmas. The cookies look light and wonderful! Thanks for adding this post to the Christmas in July party.

  7. Katherine says:

    I just wanted to say thanks for sharing such a great recipe…My mom always uses this recipe and I grew up with these cookies and frosting….LOVE THEM and now I will continue to use this same recipe with my children to make our holiday cookies

  8. Growing up in the deep freeze on Erie, PA., making Aunt Ethel’s cookies brought warmth, happiness and joy to our kitchen. They are an American Classic.

  9. linda heegard says:

    I have made these cookies since 1978 when I got married….I have made them every year with my children and grandchildren (now)….I like you , have tried several sugar cookies recipes and none compares to Ethel’s. Ethel…whoever you are thank you for the memories!!!

  10. I also used this recipe for years and somehow lost the page out of my cookbook. I have tried other sugar cookie recipes, and they have all paled in comparison. This Christmas I was ecstatic to find Ethel’s Sugar Cookie recipe on line. I’m back!

  11. sounds like a winner!!

  12. sounds like a winner eager to try this out

  13. can this cookbook still be bought?

    • Alice Ford says:

      Yes, it can be bought on Amazon.com.

      I don’t know who Ethel was either, but Ethel’s sugar cookies appeared in the 1956 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. That is how I was introduced to them. A friend made them and the rest is history. For some reason, they were replaced by other sugar cookies in subsequent Betty Crockers.
      The only difference that I can see is that in the earlier 1956 version, only 1/2 tsp of vailla or lemon flavoring (or combination of the two) was recommended.

  14. Thank you ….this is also what my mother baked from her 1961 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook. My mother made them for me for 50 years and she passed away last year so I’ve been trying to get up enough nerve to bake these. Her cookbook disappeared inexplicably, (we used to help as kids so their are memories of the cookbook as well) and I found this recipe in various places. I just called my aunt to find out what 3/4 cup shortening (part butter) means–you’ve clarified that for me…Thank you so much. These are truly the best sugar cookies…also with lemon extract! Merry Christmas!

    • Chris Ann says:

      Andrew ~ We are so sorry to hear of your loss. We are so glad though that you did find your Mother’s recipe here at our table!
      We do hope you make her cookies ~ and are filled with warm memories. Best wishes to you this Holiday Season!

  15. .

  16. Terra Johnson says:

    Hi, was wondering if you could make this into bar form. I’ve been making this classic recipe for years. Absolutely love them. But I have some medical issues that don’t allow me to stand on my feet too long. But I really want to make these! Could you please help. Thanks!

  17. I LOVE this sugar cookie! I have tried others over the years, but always come back to this recipe. I use these for any and every holiday out there: Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine’sDay, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter. You name it, I’ve got a cookie cutter for. It! Even the tried and true round. Copied this out of my mom’s 1961 version of the Betty Crocker Cookie Book.

  18. Karen McDoougall says:

    I use this recipe to make the most delicious filled cookies.
    Roll the dough and cut with a round cutter or glass, the size you want.
    Fill with your favourite filling. My family loves a raisin filling similar to a tart filling.
    Top with a second round cut out. Press edges down slightly and bake the same way as
    the single cookie recipe. The cookies are amazing. Family tradition. Bake dozens every
    Christmas. This is a must try.

  19. These cookies were yummy but the dough was too soft for cut outs. I chilled the dough for a couple of hours but even after rolling them out in the flour/powdered sugar, the dough was very soft and sticky. I make sugar cookies every year at Christmas with various different recipes and have never had a problem. Not sure what went wrong with this one. Oh well, the cookies were ugly but at least they tasted good.

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