Halloween Cut-Out Cookies

Halloween: a holiday filled with fun costumes and way too much candy. Halloween has been my favorite holiday since I was a child. I loved to be able to dress up each year and wander around my neighborhood, ringing door bells, and filling my bag with more candy than I could possibly consume in a month, let alone one evening. My brothers and I would empty our bags when we returned home, comparing our booty and trading each other for more of our favorite candy bars and treats. Of course, at the end of the day I would always end up with a belly ache!

Each year I am always faced with a Halloween dilemma of sorts. How do you allow your child to participate in a holiday where the main goal is to score as much candy as possible, while limiting their intake of sweets? As a general rule, I don’t buy candy or junk food for my home, except on rare occasions. And when at all possible, I try to buy sweets that are made naturally, with no artificial coloring or flavoring. However, on Halloween, I certainly don’t want to be the mother who bans her children from eating any of the candy they received while trick-or-treating. I tend to allow them a certain amount, and make them save the rest for later, hoping that as the days go by they will lose interest and eventually forget their stash. Hey, at least I am trying!

Last year, I began a tradition of baking sugar cut-out cookies for trick-or-treaters who came to our door on Halloween. Ok, I admit it’s more work than going to the store and buying bags of candy and chocolate. But it makes me feel good to know that at least something in those trick-or-treater’s bags is not filled with all sorts of artificial ingredients. Fortunately, sugar cookies are not too difficult to make, and you can get your children involved with the process, as well. I buy clear or colored cellophane bags with twist ties to distribute the cookies in on Halloween. Depending on the size of the cookies you make, you could even use the small goody bags most stores sell for Halloween candy. Topping decorations are limitless.  If you have loads of time on your hands, you could always ice the cookies, but the cookies are simply delicious on their own. I usually sprinkle a bit of orange dusting sugar, but if you prefer to forgo any coloring, simply add some grated orange zest.

This recipe works well for Christmas cookies, as well, which are always a welcome small gift you can give to neighbors and friends around the holidays. What I love about this cookie recipe, which was passed down from an old family friend, is that it is not your typical sugar cookie recipe. It puffs up quite a bit more and has a lighter consistency than the standard, dense sugar cookie. Enjoy….. and Happy Halloween!!!!

Yield: 80 small cookies

2 c. sugar
3/4 c. whole milk, preferably organic
2 tsp.baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. vegetable shortening, preferably organic
3 1/2-4 c. flour, plus more for rolling out dough
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs, room temperature, preferably organic

Mix all the dry ingredients into a medium size bowl; whisk together. In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the shortening and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and the milk, starting and ending with the flour. If the dough seems too wet after you have added 3 1/2 cups of flour, add another 1/2 cup, or until it holds together nicely. It’s ok if it seems a bit loose, as you will need to refrigerate the dough for about 2 hours, or even overnight, which will firm the dough. Divide the dough in half. Flatten each portion of dough into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350°. On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it’s about 1/4″ thick. Cut the dough with various shaped cookie cutters. Place the cookies onto a greased, or parchment lined baking tray. Mare sure to leave about 2″ between each cookie, as they tend to rise quite a bit. If you are going to use sprinkles, sprinkle them on top of each cookie. Place in the oven, and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Place onto a cooking rack.

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