Some recipes have a strong personal history, evoking memories of time or people who have passed. For my sister and I, this recipe for tornado cookies does just that.
As children, every year for Hanukkah our grandmother would prepare individual cookie tins for each of her grandchildren. They were filled with all types of cookies – M&M, chocolate chip, peanut butter and our favorite – tornado cookies (basically button sugar cookies), along with the obligatory pieces of gelt.
But they weren’t called tornado cookies back then. I’m actually not sure what we called them, I just remember the dry, crumbly texture as I popped them into my mouth and how the margarine and powdered sugar came together as I chewed.
This is my grandmother’s recipe and, although I’m certain it’s not unique to her, I have no way of knowing where it originated. All it says on the pink index card in my mom’s kitchen is “Mom’s Cookies.” I imagine the recipe came from a Jewish cookbook because it uses margarine instead of butter, making it kosher to eat after having consumed meat. But, then again this was also the early ’80s and margarine was pretty popular back then in general.
The name “tornado cookies” came later, probably around the time my grandmother moved to Florida. My sister and I came up with that name after we made them during a spring tornado. I remember starting the recipe, then having to abandon the dough as we ran to the basement when the sirens sounded. Once they ended, we came back upstairs and finished making the cookies. What can I say? That’s just life in the Midwest.
We don’t make these cookies often, just during Hanukkah and when we’re in need of a comfort food. That’s why I made these for my sister last week. She was very stressed with the end of tax season and having an overall crappy day, so I made a batch to cheer her up. And I think it worked. At least it helped put the day in perspective and gave her a chance to remember our grandmother who was always so proud of her grandchildren.
1/2 pound margarine, at room temperature, cubed
3 tablespoons plus 1 cup powdered sugar, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Combine the margarine, 3 tablespoons powdered sugar and the flour in a large bowl. Use a fork to mix together (you can use your hands but work quickly so the margarine doesn’t melt). Add the vanilla and mix until well-combined and crumbly. Chill for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll the dough into buttons (about 3/4-inch diameter) and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned on the bottom and completely cooked through. Note: you may need to break one in half in order to tell if it’s done as the center should be completely dry.
Remove the cookies from the pan and place on a cooling rack. Cool to room temperature. Pour the remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar into a large plastic bag. Add one-quarter of the cooled cookies to the bag. Seal it and then gently shake to coat the cookies in the powdered sugar. Remove the cookies from the bag, then repeat with the remaining cookies in three more batches.