shirley’s sugar cookies

I grew up eating sugar cookies. Tender and gently domed, with a thin cap of sugar and one chewy raisin poked into the top, they were lovely.

There’s nothing fancy about them. There’s no browned butter, flecks of citrus, or toasted nuts. No flakes of coconut, swirls of cinnamon, or puddles of chocolate. No icings or liquors or fancy sugars or syrups. There’s no sandwiching, cutting, or fancy rolling. In fact, you might say these cookies are boring. Or, you might say, they are cookies in their most simplified state of cookieness.

Making them, I feel Amish, or at the very least, stolidly Mennonite. I imagine that in those homes, this is the cookie that is always on hand, ready to be packed into a basket for a sick neighbor or doled out to hungry, stub-toed children and visiting ministers. They’re not over-rich so they won’t ruin an appetite, and they’re so basic that there’s nothing to get upset at them for.

‘Course, if you want to get fancy with them, you can brush them with a very thin vanilla glaze and sprinkle with colored sugar. My mom used to do this and it made us kids happy. Colored sugar has that effect on children.

Shirley’s Sugar Cookies
From my mom’s recipe file.

2 sticks butter
1½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
raisins and sugar, for garnish

Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Alternately mix in the dry ingredients with the milk. Cover the dough with plastic and chill for a couple hours.

Spoon the dough onto greased cookie sheets. Sprinkle the cookies with sugar, about a quarter teaspoon per cookie, and bake at 375 degrees until puffy, golden brown around the edges, and no longer wet in the middle. To test them, gently press the top of a cookie with your finger. If it springs back, it’s done. Do not over bake the cookies.

Poke a raisin into the top of each cookie. Nudge it down in pretty far; otherwise, it will fall out/off during handling. Allow the cookies to rest on the tray for a couple minutes to set up. Transfer them to a cooling rack.

Variation: Glazed Sugar Cookies
Omit the raisin and sugar garnish. Mix some confectioner’s sugar with enough milk to make a thin glaze, and add a couple drops of vanilla. Thinly spread the glaze on the cooled cookies. Immediately after glazing (it will dry quickly, so move fast), sprinkle liberally with colored sugar.

This same time, years previous: the basics, more on trash, the reason why, through my daughter’s eyes, chocolate-kissed chili, and ranch dressing.


  • Starr

    I immediately thought of the movie Amadeus, when Nipples of Venus are served. So of course, I was giggling over your raisins!

  • beckster

    I guess every family that is lucky has one of these recipes. My grandmother who was 1st generation born in America from Scottish parents called them tea cakes. I grew up eating them, and sometimes my mother fancied them up by using the same recipe by making jam sandwiches with a window in the top to show off the beautiful jam. (I know this style of cookies has a name, but it escapes me.) Anyway, I may have to try your mother's recipe and see how it compares. Thanks for sharing. Your description of them was lovely.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    Okay, it's late, but looking at the picture, I'd have to say I'd leave out the single raisin. Makes the cookies look like boobs, no? Or did I just nurse my children for too long?

    • Jennifer Jo

      I almost called them boob cookies, but then I was like, Nah, I'm the only one who thinks like that. (Ha.) Plus, these nippy cookies ( already had dibs on all the boob references…

      But seriously, you gotta keep the raisin. It's a comfort thing. Just like boobs.

    • Marlene

      My grandma used to make them. She would use one raisin on some, two raisins on some and three raisins was the max. Depending on your love or dislike for raisins, there was one for you! 🙂 She also used a sprinkling of sugar.

  • Rebecca

    Huh! Ya don't say! Well if you and the elders agree…
    (a bit later to allow for another screen opened to Brown Sugar Cookie)
    I love brown sugar anything so I'll have to give these a try.

  • Rebecca

    Oh, I love these cookies! I have recipes from just about each of my great-greats and they're all called "sugar cakes". Usually call for lard. Which, yuck. I mean, I'm all for traditional fats but I just don't see that flavor in a cookie.

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