Christmas Cookie Basics Recipe
Christmas Cookie Basics

by Wolfgang Puck

In past years, I've shared some of my favorite traditional Austrian Christmas cookies. Sometimes, though, you want an all-purpose Christmas cookie, something straightforward but extremely versatile. That's where the following recipe for Basic Butter Cookies comes in.

Tired of colored sugar on your Christmas cookies? Try frosting instead.

This is the perfect time to start thinking about holiday cookie baking. You've still got days ahead to figure out how many cookies you'll need, and for which people and what occasions. (If you use this recipe right away, you may even have time to make some cookies for the eighth night of Hanukkah.)

In past years, I've shared some of my favorite traditional Austrian Christmas cookies, the goodies my mother and grandmother baked. Each was a very specific recipe, yielding delicious results that make my mouth water just thinking about them.

Sometimes, though, you want an all-purpose holiday cookie, something straightforward but extremely versatile. That's where my recipe for Basic Butter Cookies comes in. It's a cookie recipe everybody needs to have in their repertoire.

These cookies are simply delicious: crispy yet tender in texture, rich yet delicate in flavor. Such qualities make them perfect for the holidays, because you can prepare the recipe just as described -- as classic slice-and-bake cookies -- or elaborate it in so many different ways.

For a start, have fun with the crystal sugar that decorates the cookies before baking. Look in a good kitchen shop or supermarket and you'll discover that these glistening, coarse-grained crystals come not only in clear form but also in many different colors, including Christmas red and green, Hanukkah blue and white, and a whole rainbow of other hues.

Next, consider leaving off the crystals entirely. Instead, once they've cooled, spread the cookies with your favorite homemade or store-bought icing and, before it sets, top with any edible decorations you like, from rainbow sprinkles to chocolate chips to chopped nuts, gumdrops or jelly beans to silvery or golden sugar dragees.

Want more ideas? Turn half of the cooled cookies over, flat bottoms up, and spread with soft frosting or melted chocolate. Then, top with the remaining cookies, flat sides down, for homemade sandwich cookies.

Instead of shaping the dough into rolls for slicing, you can also gather it into big balls before chilling. Roll out the firm dough to a 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface and use your favorite cookie cutters to form any festive shapes you like.

You can also flavor the dough during mixing by adding to the dry ingredients such sweet seasonings as 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon or ginger, 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder, or 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg; or by including 2 teaspoons of your favorite pure flavoring extract, such as coconut, almond, coffee, or lemon, in place of the vanilla.

Isn't it amazing how many cookies you can come up with out of one simple recipe? It's a holiday gift that keeps on giving.

Christmas Butter Cookies Recipe

Makes about 6- 1/2 dozen

4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces

1 cup granulated sugar

4 cage-free egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

About 1/4 cup crystal sugar

Christmas Butter Cookies Recipe Directions

Using a sifter, or placing the ingredients together in a fine-meshed sieve and tapping its rim, sift together the flour and salt into a mixing bowl.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment or beaters, or in a large mixing bowl using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until very creamy; start on low speed and, when the ingredients are combined, raise the speed to high and continue to beat until fluffy. On medium speed, beat in the egg yolks and then the vanilla. Add the flour mixture and beat just until combined. (The dough will clog the paddle or beaters, but it will be creamy.)

Remove the dough from the bowl, gather into a ball, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until it firms up slightly; about 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in half. Roll each half into a log about 12 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 to 3 hours or, preferably, overnight.

Place the oven rack in the top third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 1 or 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Working with 1 log at a time, cut the log into about 40 cookies, each about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, and sprinkle with crystal sugar. Bake until the edges of the cookies are golden brown, 10 to 11 minutes. With a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies from the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining log and crystal sugar. (If you're using the same baking sheet, let it cool before putting another batch on it.)

Store the cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

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"Christmas Cookie Basics"

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