In case you were concerned that I was playing favorites in disliking the traditional cookies of Dad's side of the family, you can rest assured that I am an equal-opportunist in my dislike of traditional family cookie recipes -- I don't care for the special sugar cookies produced on Mom's side for Christmas either.
These take the form of thinly rolled-out sugar cookies, frosted around the edge with green buttercream, dipped into coconut dyed green, and decorated with cinnamon Red Hots candies. We call them "wreath cookies," since that's what they look like when decorated, and their annual preparation is a Wyatt Christmas tradition. By the time the family congregates for the holiday, Grandma will have already baked the cookies, and a cadre of female relatives sits around the dining room table decorating them in assembly line fashion: one person frosts, another dips the frosted cookies into coconut, and two people work on decorating with Red Hots. For as long as I can remember, my job has been the last one; as the youngest girl in the family, it was always deemed that I would make a mess with the frosting or the coconut, and my place at the end of the assembly line has long since become permanent. So, while I enjoy making wreath cookies, I have absolutely no desire to consume any. The three features that make them what they are (buttercream frosting, coconut, and Red Hots) are all things that I don't like.
In fact, I'm not sure that much of anybody likes to eat them anymore, beyond my mother. They were the favorite cookie of my uncle Doug, who passed away when I was very young, and I think that we continue making them more to honor his memory than because we like to eat them. Instead, my sugar cookie allegiance is to my Great Aunt Lois, whose sugar cookies are pillowy, cakey delights. They are hand-formed into balls and rolled in sugar before baking instead of being rolled out and cut into shapes, and the sugar coating creates a sweet, crackly crust that is irresistible. Since we usually stay with Lois over the holidays because there is not enough space at Grandma's house to accommodate everyone (seriously, how they managed to raise five children in a two-bedroom house with what was up-until-recently only one bathroom still amazes me), I've gotten to indulge in Lois' cookies for breakfast for years before heading over to Grandma's house for the day.
Several years ago, I was lucky enough to obtain the recipe from Lois, and I've been fiddling with it ever since. It has taken years to get my cookies to match the perfection of hers, despite having the same recipe, but this year I hit upon a secret that has gotten me as close as I have ever been. Although I can't share Lois' sugar cookie recipe with you (it's a family-only secret), hopefully this trick will be enough: my cookies had always spread too much, making them flat and chewy instead of light and airy. Taking a nod from a couple recipes I had seen recently, I decided to try refrigerating the dough for 15 minutes after shaping but before baking it. It worked like a charm.