Grandma Emily’s Butter Cookies

This recipe is at least 60 years old, but that doesn’t mean it’s history. This recipe is like the famous kind of history, and it is a recipe that has become associated with me because of how often I make these incredible cookies. I have never been able to find out where the original recipe came from, none of Grandma Emily’s kids have any idea. So who is Grandma Emily? Well, she’s not my grandma. Grandma Emily was my mom’s best friend’s mom. Did you follow that? Grandma Emily was a wonderful woman and sweet sweet grandma to all. I will always remember for making these ah-may-zing cookies, which our family calls Cut-Outs.

These are NOT sugar cookies. They are butter cookies, made with butter. Butter, which is the secret to life, (a Johnson Team motto) makes these cookies light and airy and delicious. This recipe does require refrigeration time of at least 2 hours, the original recipe says overnight. I take it out of the fridge 30-40 minutes before I need it so it can warm up ever so slightly so it’s easier to roll out.

One more story before I share the secret of these soon-to-be-your-favorite-cookies. Years ago I kept my dear friend’s pre-school aged daughter, Rebekah, 2 afternoons a week. Rebekah was my buddy when she was in pre-school. She hung out with me when she came over, not with the other kids. We baked cookies every time she was at the house- her favorite kind was Cut-Outs made in different shapes with colorful, delicious frosting. Rebekah took a plate of cut-outs home with her each time for her family. One day she shared one of her cookies with her Papa and said the funniest thing that we still laugh about to this day. “Papa, Lisa makes cut-out cookies every day. She does! EVERY. DAY!” Ha Ha. Well, I don’t, but in Rebekah’s 3 year old mind I did. So adorable!

Butter Cookies

  • 3 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1 C sugar
  • 2 T milk
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 C flour, divided

Cream butter, eggs, and sugar until white in color. I use my big KitchenAid mixer for this recipe with the paddle attachment. I whip the butter on its own for a few seconds before I add in the eggs and sugar. Scrape down the bowl once or twice during this process. Then add the milk, vanilla, baking powder, and salt to the bowl. Continue to mix until well incorporated. Scrape down the bowl again.

Add 3 C flour to the wet ingredients in the bowl and mix well. Scrape down the bowl, then add the 4th cup of flour and mix again. **Don’t get in a hurry and forget the 4th cup of flour. I did that once, ONCE, and let’s just say the cookies were not the same. To make sure I never repeat that mistake, I add the 3 cups to the mixer and immediately measure out my 4th cup and set it right next to the mixer. A full cup of flour on the counter is hard to overlook.**

4th cup of flour ready to go

When the dough has mixed well, transfer the dough to a gallon Ziplock bag for its time in the refrigerator. You certainly can cover your mixing bowl and throw it in the fridge, or transfer it to another container to put in the fridge, but a Ziplock bag takes up very little space, and the cleanup from it is nonexistent, which I love. I smoosh the bag flat and get the extra air out, then seal. I use a Ziplock bag because that is what my mom used, and I appreciate her genius in that. Off to the refrigerator it goes for at least 2 hours, but Grandma Emily would put it there overnight.

We are fancy here at the Johnson’s

Take dough out of the fridge 30-40 minutes before you want to roll out the dough. This will allow you to manipulate the dough easily, rather than try to flatten it when it’s hard. You will need some flour to dust under your dough, and for your rolling pin. I find that I have to flour the rolling pin often. Roll until it’s about 1/4″ thick. If the dough is too thin, they will bake too fast, and you are in danger of burning the cookies. Too thick and they will take forever to bake and not have the correct texture. We are going for the perfect cookie-to-frosting ratio here, and 1/4″ dough will get that accomplished.

Once your dough is rolled out to 1/4″ thickness, grab a cookie cutter, dip it in some flour, and begin cutting out your cookies. I I always challenge myself to cut the exact amount of cookies to fill my sheet with my first roll-out. There’s no reason for this, but I find myself doing it every time and feeling victorious when it happens. Confession- I sneak a bite of dough as my victory trophy, it’s a wonderful treat.

Bake at 350 for 13-15 minutes until cookies are no longer doughy feeling, but not browned. I HATE over-baked cookies. I’m a soft cookie kind of girl. Over-baked cookies go in the garbage at the Johnson house. Take the cookie sheet out of the oven and place on cooling rack for about 5 minutes to cool some before transferring cookies to the cooling rack to cool completely. Continue until all cookies are baked and cooled. I like to to place cooled cookies into an airtight container until I frost them, just to make sure they stay as soft as possible.

Frosting the Cookies

This frosting recipe is the only one I use for these cookies. When I decorate cakes I use this same recipe, but I add a bit more powdered sugar so the frosting is a little more sturdy for piping and decorations. I love how this frosting stays soft, yet hardens enough so you can stack the cookies for packing. And, it’s DELICIOUS!!

My mom has used this recipe for my entire life (don’t ask how many years that is) and makes it a bit different than I do. I use her recipe, but with my tweaks. I previously told you that I change something in every recipe I use, and my mom does not exactly love when I do that to her recipes. I can’t help it. If I think an addition or substitution would improve the flavor, I do it. Sometimes it’s fantastic and my recipe changes, other times it’s not a winner and I revert to the original recipe until I try something new again.

Decorating Frosting

  • 1/2 C water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C Powdered Coffee Creamer (I use vanilla flavored creamer)
  • 2 tsp vanilla (I use clear vanilla if I want to make white frosting)
  • 3/4 Cup Butter Flavored Crisco (I use regular Crisco if I need white frosting)
  • 1 bag powdered sugar

Put all ingredients into mixing bowl. I use my small KitchenAid for this with the whisk attachment. It’s the perfect sized mixer for this amount of frosting. **NOTE: I start off with about 3/4 of the powdered sugar and mix on the lowest setting so powdered sugar does not fly out of the bowl and make a huge mess. When I am no longer in danger of flying powdered sugar, I add the rest and begin mixing on the lowest setting until it is incorporated enough to not go flying.

Scrape down the bowl a couple times to ensure all ingredients are being incorporated. I like to get lots of air into my frosting and make sure it is creamy as possible, so I put it on the highest speed and leave it for about 5 minutes until it’s whipped and mixed into yummy deliciousness.

So fluffy and beautiful

Tinting and frosting

I use small glass bowls when I tint my frosting, and put about 1 C of frosting in each. Because it is glass, I can look on the bottom side and make sure I got all of the white frosting so there are no surprises later on. Since we were making Easter cookies, we wanted pastels, so we used 3 drops of liquid food coloring to make yellow, green, and blue. Pink required only 2 drops of red food coloring. You can use a regular butter knife to spread the frosting, but I like to use dip spreaders because they work better for little kid hands, and they actually do a great job. One dip spreader per color as long as no one licks it, not saying anyone would ever do such a thing, but just so it’s said. Generally, I put about 1 heaping Tablespoon on each cookie to start, and scrape extra back into its color if it’s too much. If you have never spread frosting on cookies before, it is not difficult to get the hang of it, but there is a trick or two to getting the frosting to go where you want it to. By cookie #3 you should be an expert, and if you aren’t you can just eat the cookie right then and there and destroy the evidence YUM!

Flower cookies are a bit trickier than eggs because of the petals. Too much power behind your spreader and you could lose a petal. Eat the evidence and blame the dog, or use a bit of frosting as glue and no one will ever know. I hold the cookies in my left hand and frost with my right. Being able to twist and turn the cookie is very helpful, I do not recommend trying to frost cookies flat on a surface.

You can use piping bags and decorator tips to put the white outline and decorations on, but for simple things like this that are more about the fun family experience than looking picture perfect, I use a sandwich size Ziplock bag. Put about 1 cup of frosting into one half of the baggie and smoosh the frosting toward one bottom corner. Spin the top of the baggie so it resembles a piping bag. Make a small cut near the corner to create a hole for the frosting to come through. Using one hand to hold the bag steady and do the piping and the other to apply pressure to the bag, trace outlines, make dots, even write on the cookies. This is another thing that you just need a couple minutes to get the feel for. If you make a mistake, you can use a toothpick to pick off the rogue frosting, or the end of a knife. The rogue frosting is required to be eaten to atone for the mistake- house rules.

Use you imagination, have fun, laugh, and make cookie decorating a fun and delicious experience for everyone. One of the best things about decorating cookies with kids is that nothing has to be perfect because the fact that it was made by a kiddo makes them the most adorable and best tasting cookies ever. I have decorated cookies with almost every child I know, and I have never had a child not enjoy the experience. Sometimes I bake the cookies, make and tint the frosting, and package it all up to be delivered to families so they can do the fun stuff together without the prep. Hearing about how much fun they all had decorating cookies together is one of my most favorite things. And I know that Grandma Emily would love knowing that people are still enjoying her cookies after she passed away. Thank you, Grandma Emily for the gift of your amazing recipe.

Little Guy loves him some cut-outs!

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