A simple sugar cookie, an old family star cutter, and a little decoration.
A shortbread cookie is a simple thing: butter and sugar creamed together, flour, a pinch of salt, and a little vanilla extract for flavor. That’s it! But there is a world of possibilities after you’ve got the basic.
A world of flavor possibilities
I’ve flavored the dough with lots of different things. Think orange extract and orange zest, peppermint then dunked in a chocolate coating, rum, anise seeds, almond extract for a cherry flavor, and maple extract! I love the latter using my little maple leaf cookie cutter. I’ve made them a little savory as well with rosemary and lemon in the dough, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese while baking.
I didn’t make cut-out cookies for quite some time after catering a couple of holiday events where I had to make hundreds and hundreds of these things, and the fun disappeared! Now, I make them with my grandchildren, and all is well again.
For my little Christmas stars, I used lemon zest and lemon extract, one of my favorites. They are delicious just unadorned, but since I was making these for a cookie sale, I decorated with royal icing, which hardens beautifully, some sprinkles, and some funny little eyes. Each box of packaged assorted cookies got a little star on top.
I used my mom’s little star cutter; I think it might have been her mother’s. I miss her like crazy at the holidays, and using her cookie cutter makes me feel a little better. These connections to our loved ones are so important at this time of year, it keeps them alive in our hearts.
I’m not the world’s greatest cookie decorator, but I have fun in the process, especially if the kids are helping!
Lemon Shortbread Cookies
This is a really good shortbread basic recipe that you can change up any way you like! You can use gluten-free baking mix, and vegan butter as well.
In the bowl of your standing mixer, or with a hand mixer, on medium, combine:
4 sticks of unsalted butter, very soft at room temperature
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
Mix until well combined and fluffy. Add:
1 1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Blend in the extracts, reduce the speed to lowest, and add:
4 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
Zest of two lemons
Big pinch of salt
Mix only until flour is combined.
Pour out onto some plastic wrap and gently form into a disc.
Refrigerate for at least a half hour, an hour is better. You can make this the day before, or even freeze it.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.
Remove your dough from the refrigerator and divide in half. Roll out each half on a lightly floured surface. Dip your cutter into flour and cut out your shapes.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to brown.
Cool for five minutes, then place on a wire rack to finish cooling.
In the bowl of your standing mixer, combine:
3 egg whites or pasteurized egg white equivalent
Pinch of salt
Beat until frothy, and add, slowly on lowest speed:
4 cups 10X confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla or lemon extract
Beat for about 5 minutes, or until thick and luscious looking.
This will be quite thick. Use this with a small round tip on your pastry bag to outline the decoration on your cookie. Let this harden. It will form a dam around the edge of your cookie so you can “flood” the inside.
To fill in the rest of the icing, thin with a little water, just a few drops at a time, until it is a consistency that will spread easily with a toothpick inside the dam.
Add your decorations while wet so they will stick. The is the fun part! Let them harden again.
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