Cookies Desserts

dress and shoe sugar cookies recipe — and gender politics

what do YOU see?::::


I was commissioned by a friend to make cutesy, decorated sugar cookies for her soon-to-be eight-year-old daughter’s birthday. She asked me to decorate sugar cookies cut into shapes of dresses and high heels shoes. As many mothers and custom bakers would do, I asked for color preferences. “Teal and pink,” my friend told me, without a stutter. Her daughter was certain.

Many kids love cute and pretty things for birthdays, and I wondered what others thought of the cookies at first glance. Naturally, I polled my Facebook friends.

Here’s what people thought when I showed them a photo of the cookies:

Tea party

Bridal shower

Southern bridal shower

Summer, tea, and parties

Fashion design

Perfect [food] for a breast cancer fashion show


Only women answered. Half are nonwhite-identifying. Most are mothers. Some are American born.

My favorite answer by far was “gender.”

Dress and gender is a formidable topic, something that my blog post today can’t fully address. There is a plethora of research, many books, and ever-present courses on the topic in college curricula across the country. My post today is not even the tip of the iceberg: it’s more like an ice crystal.

Dress and gender are presented as part of most first world, non-counterculture groups to relieve tensions on representations of binary gender. If you wear a dress, you are a girl or woman. If you wear a suitcoat and a tie, you are a boy or man. It is when we are faced with non-binary gender that many people squirm. An example is the man who wears a frilly pink shirt and eyeliner. And the woman with a short haircut who binds her breasts, wears the button-down shirt and gray sweater vest with tailored trousers? Do you assume they have certain sexual orientations? Why?

So why teal and pink for a young girl’s birthday? Why not black and brown? Or why is a stiletto or a dress considered girly? Or, rather, representing a woman or girl? We are trained to think this way. If I had a request from a parent to make pink monster truck cookies for a child’s birthday, would you think they’d be for a girl or boy? Why? Why does it matter?? Along those lines, gender identity is not something YOU choose for someone. Gender (being a man or woman) is a social construct; sex (being male or female) isn’t. What about babies born with ambiguous genitals? Why the rush to make them a boy or girl? To make YOU feel more comfortable? For those who believe, are we not ALL made in the image of God? There are subjective OBSERVABLE biological differences that can be objectively described — which are technically subjective. Not objective. Not. Objective.

I’m sure there are some who would argue that gender and sex is the same. It CAN be, but not always. A social construct is something that is built by people, thoughts and actions cemented in. For example, we are all human. We all have the same basic needs to live, eat, drink, breathe, and have shelter to survive. Biologically speaking, we are made from the same bones and flesh, blood and brains, no matter what we look like. We, humans, invented categories for ourselves, like race, sexual orientation, gender, hair color, body size, etc., often in efforts to often marginalize and “to other”, to separate, differences we do not understand or fear. As I write this, the buzz in current events in this country is the transgender bathroom debate. There is a lot of fear that a genetically male but gender-identifying woman (a transgender woman) will use a women’s bathroom or that a genetically female but gender-identifying man (a transgender man, not transgendered as I originally had written — see comment below and follow the link) will use a men’s public bathroom. There are concerns that some men will dress up and pretend to be transgender women to prey on others — give me a break. There are probably a lot more transgender people walking into their gender-identifying public bathrooms already and YOU DON’T EVEN REALIZE IT. None of the bathroom legislation existed then and YOU, oblivious to someone else’s birth sex, were fine! Who wasn’t fine and being preyed upon were and are the trans people being verbally berated or assaulted when forced to take a piss in the bathroom of their birth sex.

That is what it comes down to: we all defecate and urinate. Why not do it in your gender-identifying bathroom? We all just want to relieve ourselves! The haters can stay home and poop in their own exclusive, bigoted bathrooms. GET OVER IT. It doesn’t matter if you agree with (translation: “fear”) transgender people, all of our bodies and minds, cis and trans, work the same way, with the same dreams, beauty, talents, configured a little differently. Who CARES what your crotch looks like. Why this country continues to marginalize one of the most already marginalized groups of people, making it even harder for them to be visible and accepted in a country that claims to be a melting pot of many peoples is hypocritical and showing our true colors (often white male privilege and xenophobia — *vomit*).

As an aside, intersectionality plays a part too, how oppressive social systems intersect and affect a person. For example, a “comprehensive” college course on Feminism in 20th century America as gathered by Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan is not comprehensive. What about non-white voices like Kimberle Crenshaw (who was the brains behind the term “intersectionality”)? Alice Walker? bell hooks? Grace Lee Boggs? Sandra Cisneros? Why should we all be forced to see everything through the assumed lens of a white heterosexual cis man? Those are not my eyes or experiences.

Just an ice crystal.

All this from a batch of sugar cookies. These cookies may remind you of a tea party, a bridal shower, or a fashion show. Maybe others think of a drag show, a trans coming out night, high school prom, or bad bridesmaids’ attire.  It’s all related to our human experience and context. Enjoy them all the same — we are ALL human and almost all of us like cookies.

And, seriously, get over it.


One year ago: apple and red currant pie with a flower cut-out crust (a beautiful springtime pie) and mondrian-inspired sugar cookies (which reminds me, I need to get back to my millefiori cookie technique!)

Two years ago: balsamic chicken with pomegranate molasses glaze and overnight oatmeal

Three years ago: turkey empanadas and gestational diabetes: how a food blogger is managing

Four years ago: menu planning – a reprise in 2012,  black rice horchata, and coffee gelée

Five years ago: bacon beer yeast breadred pepper soupjoe froggers, and british flapjacks


5.0 from 1 reviews
dress and shoe sugar cookies recipe
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • COOKIE DOUGH: 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ROYAL ICING: I use sweet sugar belle's ( ):
  • 2 pounds {one bag} confectioner's sugar (907 grams)
  • 5 tablespoons meringue powder (45 grams, on my measure)
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons oil-free extract (I use vanilla)
  • ½ to ¾ cups warm water
  • food coloring: YOU CHOOSE. Pick the antithesis of your learned archetypal gender-divided colors. MIX IT UP. I used teal (mix of blue and green Wilton gels) and pink (also Wilton) by request for the main colors. I also reserved some untinted royal icing and made some lavender (Americolor purple gel) for detailing.
  1. TO MAKE THE COOKIES: Measure and sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl or in mixer bowl with paddle attachment, cream together the softened butter and the sugar. Once smooth, add the eggs, almond extract and combine well.
  3. Add the dry flour mixture to the butter / egg mixture, but by bit. Mix until the dough is smooth.It will be thick.
  4. Shape into a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour, though overnight works. You can freeze the dough here too (but thaw in the fridge before using).
  5. ROLLING: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. If you chilled the dough more than an hour, allow it to warm very slightly to encourage better roll out. Roll between long pieces of parchment, to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and to obviate the need for any extra flour. Roll to between ⅛- to ¼-inch thickness. Cut out dresses and shoes, or whatever you choose, and bake for about 8 minutes, or until tops are matte. Cool slightly before removing from pan and cooling on rack. Wait at least 2 days before icing the cookies. You can freeze them for months, thaw in the fridge, and then decorate.
  6. ICING: Find a tutorial on flood icing and piping icing consistencies. There is no one way to do this; you need to find your preferences. Piping icing needs to pretty thick for the detailing. I use Sweet Sugar Belle's "20-second icing" to do most of the dress and shoe main colors.
  7. Whip up the icing: Begin by stirring the extract into half the water (start with ¼ cup).
  8. Using a paddle attachment, gently mix the sugar and meringue powder. No need to sift.
  9. Set the mixer on its lowest setting slowly and add the water/extract mix to the dry ingredients. The icing will become thick and lumpy as the water is added. Don't worry! It will become smooth.
  10. Continue to add the remaining water (this may or may not be the entire amount) until the mixture reaches a thick, honey-like consistency.
  11. Turn the mixer to medium speed and whip 2 to 4 minutes until the icing is thick and fluffy. You want a soft peak consistency.
  12. DECORATING: Divide up bowls to make up your color choices. Save some icing to not tint for detailing (frilly bits, flowers, steampunk, tartan, whatever). If you do not need to use all of the royal icing at once, it keeps well for about a week, untinted, at room temperature and well wrapped. If already tinted, sometimes remixing can bring it back to life before using (I usually don't find there is a problem unless the weather is really dry and the icing gets clumpy). Just remix it if the water starts to separate. Allow the undercoats on the cookie shapes to dry some before adding the details, to achieve pointy, textured effects (like the dress flowers). Otherwise, if you want to melt the detail colors into the undercoat colored icing, thin it down a bit and use right after piping the undercoat on. You can achieve the swirling striped effect by doing this and running a toothpick through the stripes.
  13. Allow to dry completely before serving, usually overnight. I recommend serving with wine to instigate and lubricate a discussion about gender assumptions and fashion.



  • Emilee May 5, 2016 Reply

    Great post, and super awesome cookies. Just a note, from someone in the LGBTQ community, we prefer “transgender” to “transgendered.” Kind of like African Americans prefer “people of color” to “colored people.” I love that you are standing up for the rights of every person! It is great! Here is an article about transgender vs transgendered, in case you want to learn more:

    • story kitchen May 6, 2016 Reply

      Thank you so much for your comment and teaching me. I looked at the link — I never knew the “-ed” made such a difference! I’ve edited the post to reflect that.

  • Katie June 14, 2016 Reply


    • story kitchen June 15, 2016 Reply

      Thanks. Feel free to share.

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