Grief and Baking: Rolled Holiday Butter Cookies

Today is World AIDS Day. By coincidence, the 41st president also just died, reminding me - and the cohort of survivors from his dark reign - how many more of us died on his watch from inaction, and more active hatred.

It's also my dad's mortiversary, the 10th anniversary of his death.

As I did ten years ago, I turned to baking. In anticipation of our upcoming tree-trimming party, and a hoped-for cookie-decorating side activity, I chose a rolling cookie recipe from King Arthur Flour. Since I'm unfamiliar with this type of cookie, I stayed as close as I could to the original recipe.

Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018

I consider these a qualified success. There are some improvements I can make, mostly about technique. I'm happy with the basic recipe.


  • Confectioners' sugar, 1-1/4 cups / 5-1/2 ounces (Their recipe gives 5 oz as the weight equivalent, but this is what my scale came up with)
  • Unsalted ("sweet") butter, 18 tablespoons = 1 cup + 2 tablespoons, room temperature (I neglected to let mine come to room temperature, but with an electric mixer, it whipped up just fine, anyway)
  • Yolk of 1 large egg (reserve the white to brush the cookies and add decorative sugar before baking)
  • Salt, 1/2 teaspoon (I usually omit salt from my baking, but this was my first time with this recipe. The "Tips" section of their recipe suggests using 1 teaspoon when using unsalted butter. It wasn't necessary.)
  • Flavoring:
    • Vanilla extract, 2-1/2 teaspoons
    • Lemon oil, 1/4 teaspoon
    • (I started with 2 teaspoons of vanilla. a taste test indicated it needed more assertive flavor, and a little something more than vanilla.)
    • (The original recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon of Fiori di Sicilia. I've never used that; I've only ever seen it in their recipes.)
  • White whole wheat flour, 2-3/4 cups / 11-1/2 ounces  (The original recipe calls for unbleached all-purpose flour)


  1. Whip the butter until it's smooth and starts peaking. (If your butter is still cold, as mine was, slice it into small ~1/2T pats first.)
    Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018

  2. Gradually stir in the confectioner's sugar. Once combined, whip some more at high speed. (If you add all the sugar at once, you'll get a cloud of sugar. I used a pouring shield to add it while the mixer was on slow speed and keep dust down.)
    Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018The batter after whipping together the butter and confectioner's sugar, Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018

  3. Separate one large egg. Add only the egg yolk to the batter. Beat it in until the batter is smooth. Keep the white refrigerated for the cookie-making.
    One large egg, separated, Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018Just the yolk added to the batter, before mixing, Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018

  4. Mix in your flavorings of choice.
    Flavorings for the cookies: 2-1/2 t vanilla extract (right), 1/4 t lemon oil (left), Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018

  5. Add the flour, mixing at slow-medium speeds until just smooth. If the dough is sticky to the touch, add a small amount of flour to adjust the texture. (Their recipe notes: "The mixture will seem dry at first, but will suddenly come together. If it doesn't, dribble in a tablespoon of water." This wasn't a problem for my first time.)
    Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018

  6. Remove the dough from the bowl. Wrap and chill the dough for at least 2 hours, or overnight. 

Preparation and Baking

Our kitchen is tiny, with no counter space. (Seriously: attentive readers may notice that the "counters" in the photos are the side-drain of our sink and the space between the burners on our stove.) Since I was doing this as a tech rehearsal for a party activity, I used our dining room table as the surface for setup and rolling. I rolled the dough out directly onto parchment paper for cutting and pre-decorating, then lifted the parchment directly onto the baking sheet.

Setup for rolling and pre-bake decoration, Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018
  1. "When you're ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, and let it soften for about 20 to 30 minutes, until it feels soft enough to roll. It should still feel cold, but shouldn't feel rock-hard."
  2. "Sprinkle your rolling surface with flour, and flour your rolling pin. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it 1/8" to 3/16" thick."

    Starting to roll out the dough, Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018

    Notes: I found rolling the dough evenly to be difficult. This resulted in uneven baking, both among the cookies, and even across the surface of larger cookies.

    The thicker cookies baked more evenly, and had a nicer "tooth" to them. The thinner cookies ended up more like crackers. I want to invest in some rolling pin rings to eliminate this variation, and get more professional looking cookies. With rolling pin rings, I can do some more precise experimentation with different thicknesses. I think 1/4" cookies will end up being my favorite.

  3. Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes. Collect the trimmed dough for re-rolling. They won't spread much in the oven, but leave 1/2" between them so they don't butt up against, or into, each other. (Most of the cookies I cut out in these photos were too close together. Lesson learned!
    Cutting cookies, Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018
    Cookies cut out, starting to trim the dough, Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018

  4. Optional Pre-bake Decoration: Mix 1 teaspoon of water into the egg white you reserved earlier. Brush cookies lightly with with the white-water mixture. Cover the cookies with coarse or colored sugars, edible glitter, etc. (I tried some peppermint crumble, but it wasn't designed for baking; it all melted.)
    Cookies cut out, starting some pre-bake decoration, Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018
    Cookies prepped and transferred to the baking sheet, Holiday Butter Cookies, December 2018

  5. Bake the cookies in a preheated 350°F oven for 12 to 14 minutes, until they're set and barely browned around the edges.
  6. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool right on the pan. If you've used parchment, you can lift cookies and parchment off the pan, so you can continue to use the pan as the cookies cool.
  7. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough, rolling, cutting, and baking cookies.

Related Content

Flickr photo set

Gerard Kreussling, 1931-2008
Grief and Baking: Peppermint Swirl Meringue Cookies, 2008-12-16
Some of my photos of my father [Flickr set]

Other recipes on this blog


Original recipe: King Arthur Flour

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