1 cup (2 sticks/8 oz/226g) unsalted butter, softened, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
1 piece (about 2 inches long) vanilla bean* (see note below)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
For Decoration and Icing:
Pastel colored sugars and decorating pens
Royal Icing: (optional) See Tips and Recipe Below
In a bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using a small, sharp knife, scrap the seeds into the butter mixture. Mix well.
In a sifter, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Sift the flour mixture directly onto the butter mixture. Reduce the speed to low and beat until well mixed.
Divide the dough into four equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball, then flatten the balls into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (the dough can be prepared up to 3 days ahead). Let it soften slightly at room temperature before continuing.
Position a rack in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 350°F/180°C. Butter two large baking sheets.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out a dough disk 1/4 inch thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes. Transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheets. Gather up and re-roll the scraps and cut out more cookies. Repeat with the remaining dough disks.
Bake until the cookies are golden on the edges, about 8 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks and let cool completely. Decorate the cookies as desired with colored sugars and decorating pens or royal icing. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.
Makes 24 to 30 cookies, depending on cookie cutter size.
If you don't have a vanilla bean on hand, you may substitute it with 1 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla essence.
If desired, cookies may be iced or decorated with Royal Icing.
Makes 5-6 cups
3 egg whites, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
A few drops of vanilla extract or fresh lemon juice (optional)
For tinting royal icing, use paste food coloring* (see note below)
Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and salt on medium-low speed until blended. If adding vanilla or lemon juice, add it now. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating until stiff peaks form and the mixture is nearly triple in volume, 7 to 8 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover tightly with plastic wrap and store at room temperature until ready to use. Icing will stay fresh for 4 to 6 hours.
Use a pastry bag with tip for piping royal icing decoration.
Makes 5 to 6 cups.
Paste food colors will tint Royal Icing the richest, deepest hues. Use a clean wooden pick to dip into color, then into icing. Stir to mix. If the colors start to separate, gently massage the pastry bag to remix the icing.
Photograph taken by Diana Baker Woodall© 2002
Date: March 20, 2002