Sugar Cakes

To my children, the first of December means starting their advent calendars and jumping out of bed every morning, asking for their chocolate. To me, it marks the beginning of Christmas baking season!  Every year, I create an impossibly long list of confections. It is just so hard to narrow it down.  The problem is twofold: I don’t like to make decisions and I tend to overdo, well, pretty much everything I do.  There are a few cookies and candies that are must-make and then I like to try some new recipes.  When I make cream wafers, I am instantly taken back to when I was a kid and baked them with my mom. We would roll them out thin, cut them into small circles using a special glass given to her by her mother and then frost them with pastel pink and green frosting before sandwiching them together. I now make them with my children, using a shot glass to replace the special glass that broke many years ago, with the hope of creating the same memories.  Every recipe has a story and that is the premise behind the book Sugar, Sugar.  The book is a collection of recipes, submitted by people across the country, that have passed through the generations and the stories behind them.

I was looking for a new Christmas cookie and I thought Sugar Cakes would be perfect. Don’t be fooled.  While these look like sugar cookies, they actually have the texture of very soft, spongy cakes and they are a bit less sweet.  This recipe came from a German family who emigrated to a Pennsylvania Dutch town in the 1700s and it was passed on through the generations. A 300 year old recipe! Don’t you just love that?  You can decorate them in the traditional green and red for Christmas, but we use rainbow confetti sugar because Sammie likes her cookies fancy. My husband loved them and they were kid approved.  So, if you are looking for something different to add to your Christmas cookie platter this year, these may just be it!

Sugar Cakes:

Yield: 6 dozen cookies (depending on the size you make them)

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

2 cups granulated sugar, plus more for topping

3 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup hot water

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray. In a medium bowl whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside. Place the butter, shortening and sugar in a mixer bowl and beat with paddle on medium until creamy. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time.  Add half of the flour mixture and blend. Slowly incorporate the buttermilk. Add the remaining flour mixture and blend until smooth. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot water, stir for 20-30 seconds, until the water is clear (no longer cloudy). Slowly blend into the mixture. Add the vanilla and beat just until combined.

The dough should be baked immediately. Place any remaining batter in the fridge between batches. Drop the dough by tablespoons on the baking sheet, 1 inch apart. Sprinkle them with a generous amount of granulated sugar or colored sugar, and gently press sugar into the dough.

Bake for 10-11 minutes, until the edges just barely brown. Remove from the oven and cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Source: Sugar, Sugar: Every Recipe Has a Story

Helpful Hints:

  • The recipe says to use 1 tablespoon of dough per cookie ( I got 9 cookies/sheet). I found that the cookies got too big, spreading too much, becoming misshapen. I scaled back to about 1.5 tsp, got 12 cookies per/sheet and got better looking cookies. I then baked them about 8-9 minutes.
  • Try to keep the dough you drop as circular as you can. Again, this helps to create round cookies.
  • I sprinkled some granulated sugar on the dough, before the colored sugar, as I found I liked the cookies a bit sweeter.
  • Keep a close on the first batch to gauge cook time. You want the edges just barely brown.
  • Try to get the shortening sticks. They allow more accurate measurement and prevent yucky, greasy hands 😀

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  1. Megan

     /  December 5, 2011

    This is my favorite post of yours to date! Love the personal story of the special glass your mom used, and especially liked the history behind the cookies. Love reading this!

    • Thanks so much Megan! This book, Sugar,Sugar was really interesting and had tons of great recipes. It just made you think where recipes came from, how they important they become to families, and how they make memories. I am making another recipe from the book later this week for cakies- a frosted, soft sugar cookie. They look right up Justin’s alley. I hope he saves us a couple! 😀

  2. These do look big and fluffy-a nice change of pace from the standard. Also the rainbow of color sprinkles are very eye catching. Thanks for sharing-yum!

    • Thanks Tina. I love soft sugar cookies, but these are even beyond soft! Super good! Oh, and congrats on the Top 9 yesterday!! 😀

  3. Marlena

     /  December 5, 2011

    Mrs. Gates, your cookies are greatly appreciated. Thank you for filling my tummy with happiness.

    Appearance: *****
    Taste: *****
    After-effect: ***** (Happiness!)

    Keep up the great work!

    -Marlena Warjas

  4. My kids would love them very much!! Thanks for sharing this recipe with us.

    • If my kids like them, I’m sure yours would too! 😀 The cakes on your blog are amazing!! Thank you for stopping by!

  5. Kim –
    I made them, and they turned out great!! SUPER EASY! SUPER CUTE!

    Your tips were helpful too! Because of your tips, I used the Criso sticks, which ensured accurate measuring and less mess. I also went a little heavy on the sugar, which I think was a good call. Perhaps 300 years ago, people’s taste buds weren’t as sugar tolerant as they are today!! (Probably. Thanks high fructose corn syrup.)

    My only regret was that I wasn’t able to find the coarse sugar crystals like you used on your cookies. I used fine colored sugar, and the visual effect isn’t as… sweet.

    🙂 Thanks again for another great recipe!

    • Yeah! I’m glad! Really easy and really just so different because they are more like little cakes than cookies. I might have to make another batch before Christmas! Yeah, we love the coarse sugar…especially Sammie! 😀 I ordered it online:

      King Arthur Flour has some of the best baking stuff. But, Micheal’s has a big baking section with sprinkles- they may be a good place to check if you don’t want to get them online. Amazon has them too- India Tree Confetti Sugar.


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