All Hail Ethel - One Family’s Cut-Out Cookie Tradition

Posted:   02|12|2014   By:   Kathy G

Baking for me has always been a way to give and receive comfort.  Nothing makes people feel more welcome in your home than walking in the door to the lovely aroma of fresh baked …….. anything.

It’s a way for me to unwind and relax on a free weekend day but at certain times of the year it’s the way I stay connected to family traditions.  If it wasn’t also a way for me to keep my weight up it would be perfect.

Valentine’s Day is around the corner so that means it’s time for cut-out cookies. Not just any cut-out cookies but Ethel’s. All hail Ethel. In fact, if you Google Ethel’s sugar cookie recipe you will see plenty of people support that very statement. That was actually startling to me because I have always thought of it as our recipe. They really are the best and I’ve been sharing the recipe and my family history with this Betty Crocker nugget for years.


My Mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook was awesome. You could immediately find the family favorites in any section by the condition of the page it was on and Ethel’s page was a beauty, preserved over time in a paper mache of shortening, vanilla, and flour. When the magical cookbook was finally reduced to a front and back cover (not attached to each other) holding the history of our family meals & celebrations together on pages that looked like ancient scrolls by a series of giant rubber bands my Mom started to transfer the recipes into a new binder so they wouldn’t be lost.  I hope to own it one day many years from now.

Getting back to the cut-out cookie tradition, we used to make these for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Halloween…….at least. We probably asked Mom to make them for the anything we felt fit to celebrate with cookies like say, Flag Day but she did start to get tired of making them. I have Nordic Ware Big Sheets which cuts my oven time in half because I can get so many on a sheet but waiting for cookie sheets to cool is agonizing after awhile. Cut-outs are a commitment of making, chilling, rolling and cutting out dough before you even get to the decorating. But oh the decorating! This was the part we waited for. What works of art could we create with the blank canvas of a bare cookie shaped like a tree?  I will never forget the Christmas she finally made a bargain with us. I’ll make the dough. We’ll cut them out together. You decorate without me. Really????? You’re going to leave the kitchen completely??? Even my brothers joined my Sister and I around the kitchen table to decorate the double batch of Ethel’s that Christmas and they were spectacular! We were allowed to empty the cupboards looking for anything that could sit on frosting and count as a decoration including the occasional Cheerio. 

We always each made a cookie covered in silver dragees after instruction to use them sparingly as accents or not at all and then be reduced to fits of giggles when we presented our special just for Mom cookies.   She knew it was coming but she let it happen and she always got us back by saying I’m going to make you eat that. By the way, you will break a tooth or several, those things aren’t even food.



Now my decorating is much more subdued but I still love to find pretty sparkly sugars and sprinkles.

They’re fun to give and they’re delicious so give them a try. Maybe they’ll become a tradition for you too and isn’t it nice to think of home and family as a sweet treat?

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