The last three weeks have been a whirlwind of peppermint mochas, ugly sweaters, Secret Santas, and cookie exchanges. Even though you’ve baked dozens of treats and eaten your body weight in butter and flour, we’ve just now hit the holiday home stretch, with cookie baking at full throttle. More sprinkles, more extracts, more spices than you can count: It’s almost enough to make you toss aside your tube of silver dragées. Luckily, there’s an easy way to sustain your cookie production and prevent Christmas cookie burnout.
Rather than exhaust yourself making 12 different cookie doughs, why not use one cookie dough that can serve as a canvas for many flavorful twists? Sure, you could just stick to gingerbread for the season, but you’ll never out-do your siblings that way, and there’s something special about presenting a full plate of assorted cookies, whether it’s at the dessert table or in a cookie tin by mail. So instead of wearing out your wooden spoons mixing up five different batters this week, here’s a recipe for one scrumptious butter cookie dough that’s versatile enough to press, roll, and cut, but also pairs well with any flavorings and add-ins you desire.
To start, try these five distinctively different cookies—Chocolate Peppermint Buttons, Jammy Thumbprints, Cut-Out Pecan Cookies, Raspberry Coconut Sandwich Cookies, and Candy Cane Cookies—then branch out once you feel comfortable and inspired.
Allie’s Butter Cookie Base Dough
- 3 sticks of unsalted butter (softened)
- 1 cup of granulated white sugar
- 4 room temperature egg yolks (reserve one egg white for Jammy Thumbprints)
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon of almond extract
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 3 cups (about 14 oz.) of all-purpose flour
Preheat your oven to 350℉.
I mix this cookie dough by hand, but if you like to use a stand mixer, be sure to use a paddle attachment. Beat the softened butter and sugar until fluffy, then mix in room temperature egg yolks. Add the next four ingredients, in order, until just incorporated and no dry flour is left at the bottom. Split the dough into 5 equal portions. You can eyeball-it or weigh out five 7 ½-ounce clumps. Now you’re ready to customize your cookies.
Chocolate Peppermint Buttons (Yield: 16-20 buttons)
- 4 ounces melted chocolate
- ¼ cup crushed candy cane bits
Roll the butter cookie base into balls approximately 1-inch wide, using about a teaspoon of dough. Place them on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets 1 or 2 inches apart. They won’t spread but they’ll relax a bit. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until the base of the cookie begins to lightly brown. Cool completely. Once cooled, dip just the tops of the cookies into the melted chocolate, and sprinkle liberally with crushed candy cane bits.
Jammy Thumbprints (Yield: 16-20 cookies)
- 2 ounces jam of choice
- 1 cup well ground pecans (Or other nuts. Try peanuts for a PB&J twist.)
- 1 reserved egg white
Same starting shape–roll the butter cookie base into balls approximately 1-inch wide, using about a teaspoon of dough. Place them on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Dunk each ball in egg white, shake off the excess , and roll the ball in the ground pecans. You only need a thin layer of egg white to serve as an adhesive for the nuts, so try not to transfer any globs of white into the bowl. Return the pecan covered ball to the cookie sheet. Repeat for all cookie balls.
Once the cookies have all been covered in pecans, take your finger and gently press into the middle of each ball to shape a depression. Don’t push all the way through; you want a hole big enough to fit a chickpea. Fill the hole with your favorite jam. I love to use Crofter’s Organic Seedless Raspberry Jam for these cookies because the flavor is strong and the jam has a low water content, so it doesn’t all evaporate and become chewy after baking. Bake in a preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until the bottom pecans are toasty-brown in color. Cool completely.
Cut-Out Pecan Cookies (Yield: 10-12 cookies)
- ¼ cup chopped pecans (or other nut)
Add chopped pecans to the butter cookie base and knead gently to incorporate nuts. On a well-floured countertop, roll out the dough somewhere between ⅛-inch thick (for more delicate cookies) and ¼-inch thick (for thicker cookies). Use a 2-inch cookie cutter to shape the cookies. I use a scalloped round cutter but you can use any cookie cutter that speaks to you. The size and thickness will dictate how many cookies you yield. Place them on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 6-8 minutes or until the base of the cookie just begins to color. Cool completely.
Raspberry Coconut Sandwich Cookies (Yield: 18 cookies)
- ¼ cup shredded coconut
- ¼ cup raspberry jam
On a well-floured countertop, roll out the butter cookie base about ⅛-inch thick. Use a 1-inch cookie cutter to shape the cookies. I use the base of a large piping tip as my cutter. You can adjust the size to your liking, but stick with a round shape to make rolling them in coconut easier. Place the cut cookies on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes, or until the base of the cookie just begins to color. Cool completely. Once cooled, flip half of them over and top each flipped round with about a ¼ teaspoon of jam. Take the remaining cookie rounds and sandwich the jam halves, making sure to press lightly so some of the jam peeks out from the edges. Roll the edges in shredded coconut. These cookies taste best after sitting at room temperature for at least 3-4 hours. The cookie soaks up the excess moisture from the jam, improving the overall texture.
Candy Cane Cookies (Yield: 10 large or 20 small cookies)
- A drop of red food coloring
- ⅛ tsp. of peppermint extract
Take one portion of the butter cookie base and split it in half. Take one half and add one drop of red food coloring and ⅛ teaspoon of peppermint extract. Be very cautious with both of these additions–a little goes a long way. If you add too much coloring, the dough will become overly sticky and you risk overworking it with flour. If you add too much extract you will end up with a cookie that tastes like mouthwash and, again, an overly sticky dough. Knead the dough gently with a spoon or your hand until the color is evenly incorporated. Taking small, teaspoon-sized pieces of both the red and white cookie dough, roll out two long “snakes” approximately the thickness of a pencil. Twist the two colors to resemble a candy cane pattern. My resulting twisted cane was over 8 inches, so I split it in half and made two smaller ones. The size and thickness of each candy cane will dictate how many cookies you yield. Place them on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet about 1 inch apart and shape into canes. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 6 minutes or until the base of the cookie just begins to color. Cool completely.
The butter cookie base dough is one single dough that you can riff off of endlessly. Each cookie can be modified into new ones, so let this be your cue to explore. Try rolling cookies in different nuts, mix in some shaved chocolate, or try Nutella or that kaya coconut jam you found at the Queens Night Market for an impressive and varied cookie platter that will finally put an end to the argument of who the favorite child is (it’s you).