It's not until I pull out my favorite cookbook, Christmas From the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch and open it to what I promise you is the best butter cookie recipe ever, that I feel excited for the holidays. Its bright red cover, adorable Christmas illustrations, personal reflections and irresistible recipes always makes me smile, and as corny as it sounds brings warmth to my heart. Every traditional Christmas recipe you can think of is here...spiced cider, egg nog, Christmas pudding and the best of all, Annie Hall's Butter Cookies.
Several years ago when my daughter was in pre-school, one of the mothers brought in a tray of decorated Christmas cookies for a holiday party. I took one bite and that was it... I was obsessed. I cornered the woman for the recipe and after weeks of begging finally got it from her. I have been using it faithfully every since and would never dream of modifying it. It's buttery and tender with just the right amount of sweetness, and it's perfect for decorating. Toss out every other butter or sugar cookie recipe in your recipe box... this is the only one you will ever use again!
I am only giving you directions here for "cookie cutter cookies", which are the ones that I make and decorate. For candy canes, roll cookies, jelly-filled and drop cookies you will need to refer to the book. When you are mixing the dough, it will look crumbly and dry but keep mixing and it will come together. I like to roll my dough out to just over 1/4" thick. If you find the dough is hard to roll out and is cracking, it may be that your dough is too cold. In this case, let it warm up a bit. Bake these cookies until the bottom is lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Reprinted with permission from Susan Branch, November 2012
The Best Butter Cookie Recipe!
Annie Hall's Butter Cookies
2 c. butter, softened
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla
4 1/2 c. unbleached flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With an electric mixer (even the hand-held kind), cream together butter and sugar. Add egg yolks and vanilla and mix well. Sift flour and salt together and beat into butter mixture until well mixed.
Chill dough. Roll onto lightly floured board to thickness of 1/2". Cut with cookie cutters...
When ready to bake, use an ungreased cookie sheet and place cookies 1" apart. Bake for about 10 minutes, but do not brown them. Remove cookies from cookie sheet while still warm and cool on sheets of waxed paper... Decorate in your own inimitable way.
This is an icing that will harden, but won't harden too much which is how I like it! Add candy decorations immediately - it hardens fast.
1 pound confectioners sugar
1/4 cup meringue powder
3 ounces cold water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
food coloring if desired