My mom has made these thin, crispy cut-outs at Christmas for as long as I can remember. The same treats could be found at both Grandma Sara and Grandma Losch’s homes in December each year. When I married, I discovered that my mother-in-law also makes the same recipe each year! Must be a Pennsylvania thing.
Make the dough ahead of time, and you might as well go ahead and make two batches because once you bake them, these cookies go fast. In fact, the trick with these is really in the hiding: The earlier in December you bake them, the better you have to hide them from the children and men (mostly, the men).
These are a lot of work, what with all the rolling, cutting, decorating (and hiding), and they bake fast, so once you start putting them in the oven, you’re going to get a good workout. This must be why my mom only made them once a year, and recently threatens each year not to make them at all. (I think this year she’s going to make good on that threat.) Even so, with non-Christmas cookie cutters, you could turn these into a Valentine’s Day treat for your sweetie, or whatever other seasonal reason you can use to rationalize making them.
MEG’S MOM’S SAND TARTS (modified just a wee bit by Meg)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp baking soda
4 – 4½ cups flour
An extra egg white for eggwash
Colored sugar sprinkles and cinnamon/sugar for decorating cookies
Tools you’ll need: That giant electric mixer that’s collecting dust in your cupboard, cool Christmas cookie cutters (why not treat yourself to some new ones?), baking parchment to cover your baking sheets (or buy some new airbake sheets if yours are as crusty as mine), a pastry brush, measuring spoons and cups, a thin metal turner/spatula, rolling pin, cooling racks, a timer, and lots and lots of patience. Also, it’ll be much easier if a friend helps.
In a large mixing bowl, using electric mixer (just the excuse you need to bust out your KitchenAid!), cream sugar and butter well. Add eggs and milk and mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking soda. Using a wooden spoon (you can put the mixer away again until next year), add flour mixture gradually to sugar/butter mixture until dough is somewhat firm. Don’t allow it to become crumbly. Divide the sugary, buttery goodness into 3 or 4 pieces and form each into a nice, tidy disc. Tightly wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least several hours, ideally overnight. This dough can be stored in refrigerator for several days.
You’re done for the night; uncork the cabernet. Clear your schedule for tomorrow night or Saturday afternoon.
Bring your dough to room temperature by allowing it to sit on the countertop for as long as it takes you to finish last night’s leftover wine a couple/few hours. Clear all the other stuff off of your countertop. Flour your rolling pin and surface well, and keep the flour handy – you don’t want the dough to stick!
Using your grandmother’s rolling pin for good luck (yes, I do), roll the dough very thin and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Depending on the dough’s texture, you may be able to re-roll scraps one or two more times, but each time you re-roll, the finished product will be less tender, so don’t get too crazy with the rerolling.
(About the thin-ness: Listen to me here. If they’re too thick, they won’t be flaky-crispy and I won’t allow you to call them Sand Tarts. Trust me – these cookies taste best when they’re almost paper-thin, and crispy.)
Using the metal turner, carefully transfer cut-outs to ungreased cookie sheets lined with baking parchment. Mix that extra egg white with a Tbsp water in a small bowl, and very lightly brush each cookie with the eggwash. No puddles! It’s only there to make the sugar stick.
Now, the fun part. Find the kids, because this is the only part they’ll want to help with anyway. Bust out the colored sprinkles and go crazy! Also, try using a cinnamon/sugar mixture, paired with a sliced almond or some chopped walnuts, which will enable you to rationalize eating serving these for breakfast.
Bake at 350 degrees (you did preheat your oven, didn’t you?) for 5 to 8 minutes or until they just start to turn golden – watch carefully and often to make sure they don’t burn. USE A TIMER – don’t lose track! Adjust baking time as needed. DO NOT WALK AWAY BECAUSE I PROMISE YOU WILL GET DISTRACTED AND BURN THEM. Yelling on purpose here. I speak from experience.
Using a potholder (I make no assumptions), remove cookie sheet from the oven and allow to cool for a minute or two. Shoo onlookers away and tell them to come back later, after they’re all baked. (The cookies, I mean.) Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Store in airtight container. These cookies will last for weeks in your freezer, assuming your husband doesn’t know that the freezer is your hiding place.