blue christmas cookies

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Butter Cut-Out Cookies

From the book How to Be a Domestic Goddess by
Yield 50 to 60 cookies


It’s not hard to make cookies that hold their shape well while cooking, and it’s not hard to make cookies that taste good and have a melting, buttery texture. What’s hard is to find a cookie that does all of these things together. This one, by way of a wonderful American book, The Family Baker, does, so any time you want to play supermummy in the kitchen, here is where you start.

Like all doughs, this dough freezes well, so it makes sense — in a smug, domestic kind of way — to wrap half of the dough in plastic wrap and stash it in the deep freeze until next needed. It’s hard to specify exactly how much icing you’ll need, but you might end up using more than specified below if you’re using a lot of different colors. I always cut out the newly acquired age of the child on his or her birthday. My children couldn’t contemplate a birthday party without them.



¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2⅔ cups cake flour, plus more if needed
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
~ Cookie cutters
2 baking sheets, greased or lined with parchment or waxed paper


2 Tbsp. hot water
2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
~ Food coloring as needed


  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and moving toward moussiness, then beat in the eggs and vanilla. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and eggs, and mix gently but surely.
  2. If you think the finished mixture is too sticky to be rolled out, add more flour, but do so sparingly, as too much will make the dough tough. Halve the dough, form it into 2 fat discs, wrap each half in plastic wrap, and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Sprinkle a suitable surface with flour, place a disc of dough on it (not taking out the other half until you’ve finished with the first), and sprinkle more flour on that. Then roll it out to a thickness of about ¼ inch. Cut into shapes, dipping the cutter into flour as you go, and place the cookies a little apart on the baking sheets.
  5. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, by which time the cookies will be lightly golden around the edges. Cool on a rack and continue with the rest of the dough.
  6. When the cookies are all fully cooled, you can get on with the icing. Put a couple of tablespoons of just-not-boiling water into a large bowl, add the sifted confectioners’ sugar, and mix together, adding more water as you need to form a thick paste. Color as desired; let the artistic spirit within you speak, remembering with gratitude that children have very bad taste.
  7. Frost the cookies; let the frosting set a bit before coating with sprinkles or other decor.


Culinate editor’s notes: For a lemony icing, try Cookie Icing; it’s a flavorful and glossy variation on royal icing. You can also simply replace the hot water called for in the frosting with freshly squeezed lemon juice. If you choose the latter route, zest the lemon the juice comes from and add the minced zest to the cookie dough.

If you don’t have cake flour on hand, make your own by by replacing two tablespoons out of each cup of all-purpose flour with cornstarch. Sift the flour-cornstarch mixture together a few times before using.

Don’t worry if your cookie total is only around three dozen; the frosting is only enough for about 30-odd cookies anyways.

This content is from the book How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson.

There are 26 comments on this item
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23% recommend this recipe
1. by weth on Dec 19, 2008 at 12:17 PM PST

Ah, such a classic! I have fond memories as a child of decorating cookies like this using various bright sprinkles. Great for a family gathering activity!

2. by pscheel on Dec 19, 2008 at 12:17 PM PST

I make sugar cookies every year, but I am going to try this lemon icing next year because the icing is always my least favorite part about eating them. Thanks!

3. by dgregory1022 on Dec 19, 2008 at 12:20 PM PST

i make sugar cookies all the time with my kids - a great rainy day activity. i too will have to give the lemon icing a try

4. by hotmama on Dec 19, 2008 at 12:41 PM PST

Love Nigella! I will give these a try. We just made reindeer “face” cookies using a heart cookie cutter and using twisted pretzels for ears and mini M&Ms for eyes and nose (red -of course).

5. by macaronibirds on Dec 19, 2008 at 12:50 PM PST

I love sugar cookies during Christmas :)

6. by rangrace on Dec 19, 2008 at 1:32 PM PST

A tradition here at my home .. just the Best for this time of year!

7. by Xanthippe on Dec 19, 2008 at 1:35 PM PST

Using cake flour rather than all-purpose does indeed make a difference, giving these cookies real melt-in-your-mouth appeal. I often substitute almond, lemon or orange extract for vanilla if the mood strikes.

8. by cdziuba on Dec 19, 2008 at 1:36 PM PST

What’s not to love?! A true Christmas Classic, and the cake flour gives it a gourmet-like twist.

9. by mary on Dec 19, 2008 at 1:40 PM PST

Adding mint extract to the icing is also a good choice, especially around this time of year!

10. by nicole309 on Dec 19, 2008 at 2:17 PM PST

It just isn’t Christmas without cut out cookies!

11. by LOVESTOBAKEJUSTLAZY on Dec 19, 2008 at 2:48 PM PST

yummy- I have learned using ral butter adds to the zing of baking too

12. by miriama59 on Dec 19, 2008 at 3:32 PM PST

No matter how many fancy desserts, candies and cookies I make every year I always include sugar cookies. There is something pure and simple about them.

13. by lisalmg25 on Dec 19, 2008 at 5:35 PM PST

The whole family is making sugar cookies tomorrow for the children to decorate so I’m going to make this recipe this year. Thanks!

14. by blueviolet on Dec 19, 2008 at 5:49 PM PST

This sounds like a delicious recipe. Cutout cookies are the family favorite!

15. by Marie Noguerole on Dec 19, 2008 at 6:07 PM PST

One of my favorite cookies for the holiday season. So very good with cold milk.

16. by faither on Dec 19, 2008 at 6:49 PM PST

Been a great selection of cookies, thanks for the offering.

17. by Jane K on Dec 19, 2008 at 8:07 PM PST

Sugar cookies bring back memories of my mother doing her Christmas baking. Another receipe I will have to try.

18. by Marilyn Noble on Dec 19, 2008 at 8:11 PM PST

I use lemon extract in the dough and I also use a buttercream icing (butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and a little milk) instead of the standard water and powdered sugar. The cookies are beautiful and they taste good too.

19. by kimbly on Dec 19, 2008 at 8:37 PM PST

I’ve always loved sugar cookies but I’ve hated the frosting. I’m excited to try the royal icing!

20. by java on Dec 19, 2008 at 9:03 PM PST

oh, yummy - I keep trying to find a better cut-out sugar cookie recipe. Nice project for this snowbound weekend.

21. by ivy on Dec 19, 2008 at 9:29 PM PST

Looking at the recipe bring to mind my mother’s butter cookies. Now with this recipe I can bake my own and dunk them in a glass of milk. Looks good and easy.

22. by Nancy Alton on Dec 19, 2008 at 9:43 PM PST

We just made the other sugar cookie recipe form your site: the Dorie Greenspan one. I live it becasue it’s simpel adn you odn’t have to chill the dough. And it doens’t maek too many cokie. Iportant, when your young bakers get worn out after decorating one dozen cookies. But I want to try this recipe too, now

23. by That's nuts! on Dec 20, 2008 at 7:31 AM PST

I feel the same way about sugar cookies...boooring. But butter/vanilla cookies...yum.

24. by anonymous on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:49 PM PST

Just made some of these for Valentine’s Day with Culineate’s version of royal icing. They are indeed light and delicious. Now if only I can eat them with abandon and not gain weight!

25. by Missy on Jan 25, 2013 at 11:20 AM PST

Is this how the recipe is given in the book or is it in grams?

26. by Carrie Floyd on Jan 29, 2013 at 8:52 AM PST

Missy, this is the recipe verbatim from the book, which is an American edition.

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