By Ouita Michel
My daughter has a “streak” going on Snapchat: 240 days of chatting with a friend each day and sending a picture. Willa was explaining how valuable long streaks are on SnapChat. I agreed, long streaks are valuable, even when they are not on SnapChat. We have a Christmas cookie streak going in our family and it ties me and, over the last few years, Willa, to my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother every Christmas. I think of them as I read their hand-written recipe cards for the Damn Good Sugar Cookies and the Ice Box Cookies. I never open my grandmother’s recipe box except once a year, so that they release only the faintest scent of her, and her home can remain imprinted on the cards and in the box.
The first Christmas I baked the cookies after my Mom died was the hardest. Many tears were shed into the colored icing. My sister, Paige, and I almost chickened out because the emotional waves were rolling too high for us to ride out safely. But we persevered and we baked, and our kids licked the bowls of icing and ran around in circles from too much sugar. In our family, we have baked these cookies every year that I have been alive, which is 53 years now. I have been told that my grandmother Ouita baked them every Christmas for my mom and her sister, my Aunt Jac.
The streak is long enough that I feel its value, and the simple baking steps of “adding enough flour for a soft dough” and “however many nuts you like” are recited to me not by the tattered cards but in their voices whispering to my mind and heart through to my hands, rolling and cutting the cookies, setting up the bowls of icing, all part of our Christmas tradition. The recipes for the Damn Good Sugar Cookies and Ice Box Cookies are posted below. Enjoy baking them and send a kiss to heaven for Myrtle Molly, Ouita and Pam.
Damn Good Sugar Cookies
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
Pinch (¼ teaspoon) of salt
Dash of vanilla, about a scant 1 teaspoon
4 cups all-purpose flour, may need a bit more
Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, beating in between each egg. Add sour cream. Add baking powder, salt, vanilla and enough flour to make a soft dough. Add a little more flour if necessary. Taste the dough to make sure the sweetness is to your liking. Chill dough for at least one hour, preferably overnight in the refrigerator. Roll dough thin, about ¼ inch thick.
Cut into shapes and bake at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes, depending on your oven. Remove cookies from baking sheet and let them cool on brown paper bags. When they are thoroughly cool, they are ready for icing.
2 pounds powdered sugar
½ pound butter
1 cup sour cream
1½ teaspoons vanilla
Melt the butter, beat in the sugar. Add the sour cream and vanilla. Beat at high speeds until creamy and fluffy. Divide into bowls and color with food coloring.
Ice Box Cookies
My great-grandmother Myrtle Zimmerman and grandmother Ouita Peyton Burnell and my mother Pam Papka Sexton all made these cookies each Christmas. My grandmother actually made them all year long and she ate at least two almost every day for lunch. I can eat a dozen at a time! They are wonderful because you can make the dough and freeze it, then slice and bake as you want them. We also bake and freeze.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3½ cups flour
3 cups pecan pieces or walnut pieces
In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until sugar is almost dissolved and the mix is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time beating in between until well incorporated. Sift the dry ingredients together. Fold into the batter. Fold in the nuts. Make into two rectangular logs and wrap in wax paper. Chill overnight or freeze.
Slice into 1/8-inch slices and bake at 375 degrees about 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
Sources: Ouita Michel; her mother, Pam Sexton; grandmother Ouita Burnell; great-grandmother Myrtle Zimmerman; and great-great-grandmother Lucretia Ward.
Ouita Michel owns Honeywood, at The Summit at Fritz Farm in Lexington, Ky. For more about the Ouita Michel Family of Restaurants, please go to ouitamichel.com.