Christmas Sugar Cookie Garland (Mom’s Recipe)

Welcome to winter, friends! Even though our temperatures here have actually been warmer than normal, I’m a pansy and I’ve been freezing. My solution? Bake constantly. When you live in a small apartment, a batch of cookies will turn the whole place toasty. And that’s what I have for you today, a batch of gorgeous, festive sugar cookies that you can either munch on, or use solely for decorative purposes. If you bake for warmth like me, it is nice to give your stomach break once in a while and make something sugary that you’re not going to eat. It sounds backwards and very unlike myself, but I actually do get sick of sweets during the holidays.

Also, did December go by quickly for anyone else? I keep thinking that I have so much time to get everything done, and suddenly half the month is over. They say time goes by faster as you get older, but this was QUITE a jump from last year. I think I need another snowfall to slow things down. These wintery photos were taken a while ago, and since then, Southern Alaska has become a sleety, muddy puddle. And for some reason, I blame that for the extra sense of rush. Christmastime is busy for everyone, but when you step outside into perfect, white, utter stillness….. time just stops. It’s one of those moments that gives life a sense of magic and mystery. It makes you feel small, but in a way that doesn’t bother you, if that makes any sense? Or maybe I’m crazy and snow is just snow, haha! I think there is something special to it though, and I tried my best to convey it in these photos. My hope is that you can get a little bit of magic in your day, especially if you’re somewhere where snow is not.

Now, when I originally planned to do this post, I was going to do a gingerbread garland with very simple white icing designs. It was going to be a quick project and the contrast was going to be classic and lovely. But then I had and insatiable craving for my mother’s lightly sweet, thick, chewy sugar cookies. They’re less sweet than any other sugar cookie I’ve had, so they don’t become overwhelming with frosting on top. They almost remind me of a graham cracker, more of a “snack sweet” than dessert sweet…. which is the perfect excuse to eat ten of them. So I can’t take credit for this recipe, but you should by all means make them.

Sugar cookies, however, left me with a conundrum. White icing doesn’t look quite as stunning on an off-white cookie. You can’t even see it from far away. So I improvised and came up with these cute little, snowy, red-sweatery cabins. They do take some time though and if you’re in a rush, I’d recommend going with my gingerbread dough recipe from last year. Just omit the red icing and you’ll be grand!

For those of you who are wanting to attempt these cookies as shown in the photos, I decided to make a sort of instructional video to show you how I decorated them. I’ve never made a video before, and doing so was definitely a learning curve! My hands are covering my work through most of it, and I’m dweeby as can be, but I hope it offers at least a little bit of help!

mom’s fluffy sugar cookies

1 c. vegetable shortening (I use half butter)
1 1/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 c. milk
1/4 t. salt
4 1/2-5 c. all purpose flour

Cream together shortening (or butter), sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth and uniform. Add baking powder, baking soda, and milk and mix until combined. Slowly incorporate flour and salt until you have a tacky but thick dough. Flatten dough into two round discs, cover in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F. After dough has chilled for at least an hour, roll it out to about a 1/4 in. thickness, and cut into desired shapes (use a house/cabin shaped cookie cutter or paper stencil to create the garland as shown). If making tree ornaments, use a medium-sized round piping tip to create a hole in the top of each unbaked cookie. If making a garland, create two holes (at least a 1/4 in. apart). Carefully place your cutout dough 2 inches apart on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes or until puffed and golden on the bottoms. Let cool completely.

royal icing

2 egg whites
1/2 t. vanilla, almond, or rum extract
3-5 c. powdered sugar

Use a spoon or thick rubber spatula to mix egg whites, extract, and just enough powdered sugar to make a smooth paste. Add a tablespoon of water at a time and stir until the mixture is thin enough that a whisk can mix it without becoming clogged. (or use an electric hand mixer/stand mixer). Add both water and powdered sugar back and forth, while whisking constantly,  until you achieve “flood consistency”. You’ve reached flood consistency when you can lift your whisk or mixer attachment, drizzle a swirl or pattern into your bowl of icing, and have it completely disappear in about 10 seconds.

Separate your icing roughly in half and place into two bowls. Use gel or powder food coloring to create a deep red (or desired color). You can use liquid food coloring, but you may have to add some more powdered sugar to thicken it up. Note that the icing color will typically look somewhat darker/deeper when it’s dry. Spoon icing into piping bags, or sandwich bags with the tip trimmed off.

to assemble garland

Decorate cookies according to your liking, and allow to fully dry (at least five hours). Clear away the holes in the tops of your cookies if icing dried in them. Thread ribbon or string of choice through the holes of your cookies, and tie or hang along your banister, walls, or area of choice.

Thanks for reading!


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