I’m not really sure what these should be called exactly, but we’re going to call them tea cookies because that is what I think they would go with perfectly: tea. Technically they are called Ethel’s Sugar Cookies, but I don’t feel like they are sweet enough to be what you traditionally think of as sugar cookies. They are a little tamer; a bit more like a cross between sugar cookies and shortbread.
But of course, I have always called them piano cookies in my head, because that is where I have always had them: piano lessons. I took piano lessons from second grade through high school, and I still try to sit down at my piano as often as I can so that I don’t get too rusty and because, when I have a stressful day playing the piano is one of those things that makes me feel better. Like writing.
Once a month my piano teacher gathered all of her students together for a Saturday class. We would have a short memorized piece that we would play and then we would have a little theory lesson or play musical terms bingo. And at the end we always, and I mean always, got these cookies. Two a piece. Except my mom always wanted me to get an extra one for her because she loved them so much. We would always have them in seasonal shapes (hearts in February, flowers in May) and often seasonal colors (red in December, green in March). And I had largely forgotten about them until a few weeks ago when I was explaining these monthly classes I had to Gerrit and told him about the cookies.
My mom had the recipe, photocopied by my piano teacher straight from an old Betty Crocker cookbook. And there is nothing that needs to be changed about them (except I used butter instead of shortening, and didn’t think it made a bit of difference). They are sweet without being sugary and delightfully buttery without being too rich. They are perfect in their simplicity, exactly what you want for an afternoon tea or for crushing up on top of chocolate ice cream or decorating for the holidays.
Tea Cookies (aka Ethel’s Sugar Cookies)
adapted from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Wait Time: 1 hour
Bake Time: 6-8 minutes, per batch
Makes 3-4 dozen
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
1. In a large bowl, beat butter on medium speed 1-2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until mixture is light and fluffy, 1-2 more minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well, until combined.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add gradually to the butter mixture, while beating on low speed just until combined.
3. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for 1 hour.
4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured board or counter to 1/8 inch thickness. Use a cookie cutter of your choice to cut the dough into shapes, and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar if desired.
6. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the edges are beginning to look slightly golden brown. Let cool on the cookie sheet for 1-2 minutes, and then move them to a wire rack to let them finish cooling.