My family had a Thanksgiving tradition that served an important function: it kept us kids busy and out of our mothers’ hair so they could cook the bird and all the traditional side dishes.
Where were the men? Watching football, of course. This was in Mississippi in the 1970s and 1980s.
My mom came up with this idea. A few days before Thanksgiving, she and I would make old-fashioned cut-out sugar cookies, the kind you make around Christmas. But instead of cutting out shapes like reindeer and candy canes, we used a turkey cookie cutter.
We baked and we baked. I gorged on so much raw cookie dough, I felt sick until Thanksgiving. We made several dozen turkey cookies, maybe fifty or more. My mother stored them in the many tins left over from years past when relatives sent cookies. My mom packed a few boxes of confectioner’s sugar and food coloring.
We were off to my cousins’ house in Hattiesburg, an hour and a half drive from Jackson.
Once we got there, my aunt set up a card table and put out bowls of icing. We decorated cookies. We would start out making real-life turkeys, using toothpicks to get the finer details. But by the end, we would just slap on whatever icing we had a lot of and call it done.
This is the thing about cut-out sugar cookies. They taste bland and dry and terrible until you frost them. Once you frost them, they become utterly addictive, and they taste even better after a few days of sitting around in cookie tins.
We had traditional desserts on Thanksgiving, too. We had pumpkin pie, which I did not like because I did not like anything that contained an actual vitamin or nutrient, and a delicacy known as “ugly apple pie,” which was one of my mother’s specialties. I’ll share that recipe another day if my mom can find it or remember it.
But I remember those turkey cookies. I remember being proud of my contribution to the family Thanksgiving dinner.
I have tried a lot of cut-out sugar cookie recipes over the years, and this is just one of several that will do the trick. Do not be tempted to use the store-bought, refrigerated sugar cookie dough. You will not get an authentic cut-out sugar cookie.
Mastering cut-out cookies takes practice, but it is a great way to involve school-age kids in preparing for a holiday feast.
We lost our red plastic turkey cookie cutter years ago, but you can buy one at a baking supply store or order one from Country Porch .
Cut-out Sugar Cookies
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup butter
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour (plus more for rolling)
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, cream sugar, shortening, and butter. Add eggs, vanilla extract, and milk. Mix until well blended. In a medium bowl, sift dry ingredients together. Add the dry ingredients gradually to the sugar mixture. Mix until combined. Batter will be stiff. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick spray. Working with about a third of the dough at a time, roll dough about 1/8" thick on a floured surface. (Store the rest of the dough in the fridge.) Dip the cookie cutter in flour and cut dough into shapes, working quickly. Re-roll leftover piece of dough to get as many cookies as possible. Place cookies on cookie sheet 1/2" apart. This is tricky. If you are having trouble getting the cookie to the cookie sheet without breaking, roll dough a little thicker and transfer immediately after cutting.
Bake eight minutes or until very light brown. Cool cookies completely on wire rack. Makes three to five dozen cookies, depending on size.
Two boxes powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk (approximate)
Pinch of salt
In a medium bowl, mix one box sugar with enough milk to reach a consistency like pancake batter. Add salt. Set aside. Make another batch with second box. This time, divide among several small bowls and add food coloring to each.
To apply icing, use a butter knife to spread a thin layer of white icing on each cookie. Let dry. Then, using toothpicks, paintbrushes, and other tools, apply colored frosting to create a gaggle of festive turkeys. You may also decorate with jimmies (chocolate and multi-colored), colored sugars, candies, and mini chocolate chips.
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Sweets