The Best Cut-Out Cookies

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Everyone needs a great cut-out cookie in their entertaining repertoire and today I thought I'd share mine. There really are a lot of bland versions of this recipe out there, but these soft, buttery biscuits are super easy to work with and taste just as beautiful as they look ... (hello sweet vanilla and bright lemon zest!) ... Which is why I'm giving them top billing as the best cut-out cookies going.

Using a kitchen mixer makes preparing these cookies a cinch; the ingredients come together quickly into a firm dough that doesn't tear easily or get too soft like more delicate cookies. And because they're really more of a shortbread, they hold their shape in the oven and keep well in the pantry. The dough also freezes perfectly, so I like to make a double batch and then roll out a few sheets of dough to be frozen flat sandwiched between wax paper and plastic wrap for quick cut-out cookies later.

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The Best Cut-Out Cookies

yield: about 3 dozen cookies, depending on size

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for an hour (225g)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 ounces cream cheese (1/4 of a standard cream cheese package)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and add the sugar. Cream until light and fluffy.

2. Add the egg, and beat until golden. Add the cream cheese and again beat until well incorporated. Add the vanilla, almond extract if you like, and the lemon zest.

3. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl then add it, bit by bit, to the butter/sugar mixture until fully incorporated.

4. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour. When you take the chilled dough out of the fridge you may need to let it sit for a few moments before it is soft enough to roll out. The high quotient of butter makes this a very firm (and delicious) dough.

5. Heat the oven to 350° F. Divide the dough into smaller balls and roll out to your desired thickness. Cut out cookies.

6. Bake cookies for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness. The small, thinner ones started browning after about 8 minutes, and I didn't want these brown at all. The larger ones had a slight golden bottom after 11 minutes, which was perfect for my purposes.

7. Let cool before icing or decorating and store in a tightly covered container.

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How to stamp cookies

I'm not a big fan of frosting, so I love to decorate cookies with stamps instead. There is such a thing as a specialised 'cookie stamp' but I find ordinary rubber stamps work well too, especially if the design is simple and you press it right down firmly into the cookie. Alphabet stamps make the clearest impression in my experience and I do love stamping my guest's initials into their own personalised treat. I've also used doily stamps to create a pretty impression. Obviously you want your stamps to be clean - preferably never before used.

Once you've cut and stamped your cookies, before they go into the oven, leave them out to dry for up to 12 hours at room temperature before baking. This helps the cookie keep its shape in the oven so the pattern doesn't distort.

I've also tried stamping baked cookies with liquid food colouring applied like ink, but that turned out blotchy and unreadable. I'm keen to get my hand on some gel food colouring to see if that would work better, so if anyone's had success with this already, I'd love to hear how you went!

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