These versatile lemon-flavored sugar cookies will become your all-occasion holiday treat. The soft dough rolls out smoothly and is easy to cut into different designs.
1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 large egg, separated
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, or 3 tablespoons colored sugar for sprinkling
1. Position 2 oven racks in the middle and upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Put the butter in a large mixing bowl and mix with an electric mixer on low speed for 15 seconds. Add the sugar and lemon zest and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until the mixture lightens in color and looks fluffy. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl once during the mixing. Add the egg yolk, lemon juice, vanilla, almond extract, and salt. Decrease the speed to low and mix in the flour until the dough holds together and comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl and the beaters. Pat the dough into two 5-inch disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill them in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until the dough is firm.
3. Remove 1 piece of dough from the refrigerator. Lightly flour the rolling surface and rolling pin. Roll the dough until it is 3/16-inch thick. Slide a thin metal spatula under the dough to loosen it from the rolling surface. With a 2- to 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter, cut out stars, half-moons, or any desired shape. Place half of a round cookie cutter on the dough to cut half-moons. (Using more than half the cutter makes larger half-moons and less than half the cutter makes smaller crescent moons.) Place the cookies 1/2 inch apart on a prepared baking sheet. Wrap the scraps in plastic wrap and set aside.
4. Roll and cut out the second piece of dough. Transfer the cookies to another baking sheet. Press all the dough scraps together until smooth and repeat the rolling and cutting process, rolling the dough to a 3/16-inch thickness. Transfer the cookies to a baking sheet. Put the egg white in a small bowl and whisk until foamy. Brush the top of each cookie lightly with slightly beaten egg white. Sprinkle granulated sugar or colored sugar lightly over the egg white. Or, omit the egg white and leave the top of the cookies plain, then glaze the warm baked cookies with a powdered sugar glaze as directed below.
5. Bake 2 baking sheets at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, reversing the sheets, top to bottom and back to front, after 6 minutes of baking. The tops of the cookies will be golden and the edges light brown. Bake the remaining sheet of cookies on the middle rack of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool the cookies 5 minutes on the baking sheet. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool thoroughly. Makes about 80 cookies.
HINTS & TIPS FOR THESE COOKIES..
VARIATION: Omit the egg white and sugar topping and bake the cookies as directed. Make a powdered sugar glaze by mixing 1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons plus 1 to 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or water until a thin glaze forms. Use a thin metal spatula to spread a thin layer of glaze over the tops of the warm cookies. The glaze will firm as the cookies cool thoroughly.
Good Advice: Chill the dough before rolling it, and it will not stick. Before cutting out any cookies, loosen the rolled-out dough from the counter with a thin metal spatula.
To Freeze: Stack 6 cooled cookies together and wrap them in plastic wrap. Put the wrapped cookies in a metal or plastic freezer container and cover tightly. Label with the date and contents. Freeze up to 3 months. To serve, defrost the wrapped cookies at room temperature. Serve within 1 week.
*NOTE* Since the cookies hold their shape during baking, they can be adapted to any holiday just by changing cookie cutters. The topping can be a mixture of egg white and sugar, added before baking, or a glaze of powdered sugar frosting, added after baking. These thin, crisp cookies store especially well at room temperature or in the freezer. You may wonder why few stores stock half moon-shaped cookie cutters but an ordinary round cookie cutter can be used to create half-moons. Simply use only half of the round cutter. A six-pointed star is traditional for a Hanukkah cookie, but any star cookie cutter is fine. During the holiday season bake stars and moons from one batch of dough and have them ready for both Hanukkah and Christmas. You may be able at some speciality stores to actually find a 6 point star cookie cutter.
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