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Tuesday, February 8, 2022

The Quest For My Mom's Perfect Valentine Cookie



Spoiler alert -- I haven't found it yet.

I do have my mother's heart-shaped cookie cutter, though. This one was part of a 4-piece "bridge" cookie cutter set, circa late 1950s. There was originally a diamond, a clover/club, and a spade to go with the heart. Somewhere along the line, the other 3 shapes were lost or given away. My mom played bridge with some neighbor ladies once a month or so when I was small. I recall her using the "bridge" cookie cutters to make finger sandwiches. And of course, she always used the heart cutter to make cookies for Valentine's Day. I have several heart-shaped cutters, but I particularly like this one for its scalloped edge.

My mother never iced sugar cookies, instead preferring to sprinkle before baking with colored sugar, nonpareils, or those little rod-shaped jimmies. (I've got that covered. I used pink sugar crystals.) Her cookies were buttery, crispy, and held the scalloped edge of the cutter. Here's my problem, I have no idea what recipe she used. 

I tried 2 recipes from her cookbooks so far and neither are it. The first recipe used a lot of flour. These are soft and cake-like sugar cookies that I make when planning on frosting afterward. The second recipe I tried was from her c. 1957 Better Homes & Gardens cookbook for Cooky-Jar Sugar Cookies. The recipe indicated that these were crispy. In comparing this second recipe to others that I found in cookbooks and online, the Cooky-Jar ones had a higher butter and sugar ratio to flour. I thought that would be a good start. 

Sugar tends to add crispness to cookies and also encourages spread. A recipe higher in flour tends to produce a cookie that is tender and cake-like. Butter tenderizes the dough and aids in spreads if in high enough amounts. I wanted the crispness from the sugar, the flavor and tenderness from the butter, yet still holding the cut-out shape when baking (so, reducing spread).

I did a little reading on cut-out cookies. In addition to the right ratio of ingredients, it seems that the best doughs rest in the fridge overnight before rolling and cutting. To help maintain the cut-out shape, pre-baked cut-outs should be placed on a baking sheet and chilled for about 15 minutes before popping into the oven. So, I made sure to take both of these steps.  I made the dough on Monday and chilled overnight. Then right after cutting out the shapes I chilled the baking tray and cookie cut-outs before baking. I do think those steps helped.


The cookies that held their shape the best were the re-rolls -- those rolled out from all of the leftover dough scraps, incorporating a little more flour than the initial dough. I think the BH & G recipe was close to what I remember from my childhood. The cookies were definitely crispy. They only partially retained the scalloped edge. But the flavor seemed to be lacking. I remember my mother's cookies tasting more buttery.

One thing I believe I did differently than my mother is I used all butter. My mother likely used half butter, half margarine. I don't know how that would have affected either the flavor or the spread.

Valentine's Day is just a few days away, so I don't think I'll be baking another batch of heart-shaped cookies. But I will be thinking how I can improve the flavor for the next time I make cut-out cookies.

My question to you, have you come across a recipe for a crispy sugar cookie that held its cut-out shape? Any ideas for improving the buttery flavor?

14 comments:

  1. I don't have a recipe for you but we had the same cookie cutters. My mother didn't play bridge, but those most have been common.

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    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I've seen similar cookie cutter sets in vintage shops. Some are like the one I have with the handle as part of the aluminum fabrication and others have the green wood handle. I think both versions must have been popular. Kind of says a lot about how popular card games were as entertainment in the 50s and 60s. I know in my childhood household, we played some game or another of cards in our leisure time (Go Fish, Crazy Eights, Old Maid, Solitaire, War, Rummy), sometimes as a family and sometimes just us kids.

      Thanks for helping me go down a path in memory lane today. Have a wonderful day, Live and Learn!

      Delete
  2. My mom used to make a sugar cookie that was my grandma's (dad's side) recipe. They were so delicious. They were light,, crispy, and almost melted in your mouth. We all have the recipe yet none of us can make them. At the family gathering after her funeral My niece brought some. She failed too. My mom could never figure out what we did differently. I think its got something to do with the butter, but who knows. My great grandmother used to make a Norwegian cookie that was about the size of a dime, and very hard. I never got that recipe and barely know what they were called because it was a Norwegian name. That recipe will forever be a mystery.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Diane,
      That's curious, that you all have the recipe but none of you can replicate how your mom made them. I wonder about the butter, too. When my cookies didn't taste as buttery as I remember my mother's, I started to think maybe her butter was different from what we buy today. I do know that different butters have differing levels of water content. It could be that the butter your mother used had a higher level of butterfat content and less water, or vice versa.

      We have a Norwegian town near us that has a bakery. I've never seen a small round cookie there. I wonder what that was. Lots of other delicious baked goods, though. I hope that someday, someone knows what you're talking about and can supply you with a name and/or recipe.

      Wishing you a beautiful day, Diane!

      Delete
  3. Sweet Lili -

    I think you're looking for a butter cookie recipe. I write that because I had the same experience you have been having. My Mom has been gone for over a decade. During that time I have wanted to recreate her Christmas cut-outs. So thin and crispy without the overly sweet flavor of a typical sugar cookie.

    I kept working with different sugar cookie recipes found on the internet while searching for the best cut-outs. I'd increase and decrease the various ingredients to make those recipes like Mom's, but none came out right. Talking about it one Christmas a brother commented, "how hard can it be?" He's right. It should be so simple. Butter, sugar, flour. Eventually I gave up: I was wasting my good ingredients.

    Then, last winter, I used the time stuck in the house to go through Mom's numerous recipe boxes and clippings. One brother had dumped them all in a big box. I had a Eureka! moment when I stumbled into the cookie pile and found her cut-out recipe. I thought it had been lost to time. The recipe is titled "Butter Cookie for Cut-Outs". Best guess is that it is the same recipe her mother, my Grandma, used. I e-mailed the recipe to an Aunt in her 80's to verify. She uses the same recipe, so all the girls probably make those Christmas cut-outs from Grandma's recipe. Mom & Dad were married in 1953, so that recipe card has been around nearly 70 years. It shows signs of being well used.

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    Replies
    1. Hi friend,
      Thank you! Thank you! I think you might be right about this. The extra sugar in a sugar cookie might be masking the butter flavor. I will check my mom's cookbooks and recipe file for a butter cookie recipe.

      I'm glad you were able to solve your "mystery" and thank you for sharing, here!
      Have a fabulous day!

      Delete
  4. I've been on a similar quest. I have my mom's sugar cookie recipe and it's pretty good, but I think I prefer a shortbread cookie. My mom's recipe calls for shortening--shortening these days is not what it used to be (which is probably better for our health) and I have a few recipes that don't taste quite the same as hers, which I attribute to the shortening. One thing I do like about my mom's recipe is that she uses a combination of vanilla, almond, and orange extract, which adds a delicate flavor.

    I think I mentioned earlier that I made shortbread cookies and decorated them for Valentine's Day so I could mail some to my son. I made another batch yesterday, since I hosted a tea party for the "girls" in my family today. They work great as cut-out cookies, hold their shape well, are pleasantly crispy, and I prefer the taste. It sounds like the commenter, above, has similar thoughts. BTW, I added almond and orange extract to the very basic shortbread dough.

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    1. Hi Kris,
      Thanks for sharing your info. One of the ingredients called for in my mom's cookbook recipe was orange zest. I didn't add any, but now that you've mentioned the orange extract, along with almond and vanilla, maybe I will try the orange zest to see how it affects flavor. Your shortbread Valentine cookies sound delicious. And your tea with family ladies sounds so pleasant. I hope you all had a wonderful time.

      Have a great evening, Kris!

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  5. We also love sugar cookies with butter frosting. I prefer them a little thicker so they aren't so crisp. I also found that chilling the dough for several hours or overnight - then quickly rolling out the dough and baking helps with it not spreading out as much. We also love the addition of almond flavoring in the frosting. I think I need to make me some valentine sugar cookies now!

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    1. Hi Ruthie,
      Yum! Almond flavoring in a butter frosting sounds so delicious! I admit I do like a good cookie with butter frosting. You sometimes freeze cookies, don't you? (thought I remembered you mentioning that) Have you ever frozen a frosted cookie? I'm just wondering how they would hold up frosted, then thawed. I've frozen frosted cupcakes before and they've been fine. I was wondering this during the holidays because we had so many frosted sugar cookies and I wanted to put some of them out of my sight.

      Have a wonderful day, Ruthie!

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    2. You have a sharp memory Lili! I do freeze cookies. Every night we each have two frozen cookies. They are on the small side so I feel justified in having a couple. I also have frozen frosted cookies and they do well as long as I can keep something from smashing the frosting. I wish freezing cookies would keep me from eating them, but I like them even better :(

      Delete
    3. Hi Ruthie,
      What you said about liking them better -- ha ha, I have the same issue with frozen brownies. I think they're much better frozen than room temp!
      I remember things my friends say -- online friends or in-person friends. :-)

      Have a great weekend!

      Delete
  6. I have some of those same cookie cutters Lili :) I have the heart and diamond shapes and may have the spade. I'm thinking the club is the shape that is missing. My mother (92 next week) gave them to me when I started making cookies with my children 35+ years ago as she had not used them in years. When she and my dear Daddy celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, I was able to use her diamond shaped cookie cutter to make sugar cookies for their Diamond anniversary party (traditional list). She thought they were good and decided to start making them herself. So I gave her some different cutters (nautical, Christmas, winter) that she now uses to make sugar cookies frequently. My recipe isn't as buttery as the one you are searching for. I did find some of the recipes available after the poster mentioned butter cut out cookies. May just have to try some of those myself.

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    1. Hi Lynn,
      Those cookie cutters must have been very popular in the 1950s. What a clever idea to use the diamond shaped cutter for your parents' 60th wedding anniversary! I love that!

      I've been looking over the butter cut-out cookie recipes, too. I'll give one a try the next time I make cut-out cookies. I hope you find one that you like, too.
      Have a lovely evening, Lynn!

      Delete

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