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The All-Time Best Butter Cookies

There is nothing better than a foolproof cookie recipe that allows for lots of variations. Meet the Butter Cookie.

Ok, butter cookies may not be a regular menu option, but traditions are traditions, and we've been loving this versatile cookie dough since it was first shared in Gourmet magazine's December 1995 issue- you read that right, 1995, and we've yet to find a recipe that's better. It's the only dough you'll need to make a host of different variations like Chocolate Dipped Coconut Sticks, Mocha Butter Balls, Fiery Mexican Chocolate Shortbread, and Raspberry Hazelnut Triangles. If you're going to eat cookies, these are the ones to eat!

 

Basic Butter Cookie Dough

Ingredients:

This makes enough for two variations.

  • 1 pound (4 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

 Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°
  2. In the large bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time.
  3. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy. Beat in flour gradually, beating dough until just combined well.
  4. Remove dough from bowl and divide into equal halves. Wrap each half in waxed paper and chill in the fridge until needed. This recipe will yield approximately 3 pounds of dough, or enough to make 2 different cookie variations.
  5. If you're rolling these cookies out to shape them, work with half a disk at a time on a well-floured surface. Because of the high butter content, it's important that the dough remain well-chilled while you're working with it. Roll scraps into a ball and chill, then roll again. Once they're rolled out, it's a good idea to put them back in the fridge on the cookie sheet for a few minutes just before baking- that way they'll hold their shapes while cooking.
  6. Roll dough out to 1/4" thickness, cut into shapes, and place on the center rack of preheated oven until they're pale golden- about 12 minutes.
  7. Allow the cookies to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

This basic butter cookie dough lends itself to all sorts of delicious variations. Here are a few of our favorites... 

 

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Sticks: (see image above)

  • 2 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted and cooled
  • 1/2 prepared basic butter cookie dough at room temperature (recipe above)
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, or dark chocolate bar
  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the basic cookie dough and the cooled toasted coconut and beat until just combined well.
  2. Halve the dough and place each half between long sheets of waxed paper. Roll and pat each half of dough, shaping with your hands, into 11' by 2 1/2' rectangles.
  3. Chill shaped dough, wrapped in waxed paper, until firm - about 30 minutes.
  4. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or a double boiler and gently dip one end of each stick into chocolate, dragging underside against the rim of the bowl to remove excess.
  5. Transfer coated sticks to sheets of wax paper to harden. (When chocolate has hardened, cookies may be stored between layers of wax paper in airtight containers up to 6 weeks in the freezer.)

** Note- Slice these very thin- thinner than you might think- to allow for them to puff as they bake. I also slice these into small squares or rounds to make for a slightly larger version of these amazingly delicious cookies.

Mocha Butter Balls:
  • 1/2 prepared basic butter cookie dough, at room temperature (recipe above)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 cup of finely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  1. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat together the cookie dough, cocoa powder, espresso powder and nuts until just combined well. Form dough into balls by scooping out one level teaspoon and rolling between your palms until smooth.
  2. Arrange dough balls about 3/4 inch apart on baking sheets and bake cookies in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven until just firm, about 17 to 18 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes.
  3. Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl. After the cookies have cooled for a few minutes, dip them in the confectioners sugar to coat well, shaking off the excess, and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
  4. Store cooled cookies between sheets of wax paper in air tight containers. If desired, cookies can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 weeks. Roll in confectioners sugar again to refresh before serving.

Fiery Mexican Chocolate Shortbread: 

These cookies are not for the faint of heart- a healthy dose of ancho chili powder (or substitute cayenne or chipotle) and cinnamon adds a sophisticated twist to these dark chocolate wonders.

  • 1/2 prepared basic butter cookie dough, at room temperature (recipe above)
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder (or a mix of ancho and cayenne or chipotle for more spice)
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (or more, to taste)
  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the basic cookie dough and the cocoa powder, chili powder, cinnamon, and black pepper. Beat together until just combined well.
  2. Halve the dough and place each half between long sheets of waxed paper. Roll and pat each half of dough, shaping with your hands, into 11' by 2 1/2' logs. Or, if you prefer, form into two balls, press into discs for rolling and cutting.
  3. Chill shaped dough, wrapped in waxed paper, until firm - about 30 minutes.
  4. Slice chilled dough logs (or roll out and cut with cutters) into 1/4" rounds and place on cookie sheets about 1" apart to allow room to swell during baking.
  5. Bake in center of preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, then remove and allow to cool on sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. These cookies can be stored at room temperature between layers of wax paper in an airtight container, or frozen for up to 6 weeks.

Raspberry Hazelnut Triangles: 

     Another favorite variation from the original Gourmet recipe, the raspberry jam and crunchy nuts offsets the rich butter dough perfectly!

    • 1/2 prepared basic butter cookie dough, at room temperature (recipe above)
    • 1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
    1. Roll out dough between sheets of wax paper into an approximately 14-inch square, about 1/8 inch thick, and remove top sheet of paper.
    2. Spread dough with jam and sprinkle with nuts. With a long-bladed knife cut dough into 2-inch squares and halve each square diagonally to form triangles. If dough becomes too soft to work with, transfer it on wax paper to a baking sheet and freeze or chill until firm.
    3. Arrange triangles 1/2 inch apart on baking sheets and bake in batches in middle of oven until pale golden, about 12 minutes.
    4. Cool cookies on baking sheets 5 minutes and transfer to racks to cool completely. Cookies may be stored between layers of wax paper in airtight containers up to 6 weeks frozen.

     

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