Sarabeth Levine's Shortbread Cookies

Bake and decorate these simple, buttery cookies with your grandchildren!

By Elizabeth Semrai

Sarabeth Levine says this is a perfect cookie because you can decorate it any way you like and for any holiday. “Shortbread cookies traditionally have just a few ingredients, so the buttery flavor really comes through,” Levine says. “My cookies get a little extra crunch from the sugar sprinkled over the hot baked cookies as they come out of the oven.”

For Halloween, let your grandchildren use their imagination with cookie cutters, orange and black sprinkles and sugars, and other candies. “You can cut out any size or shape you like, but I prefer my shortbread cookies on the dainty side. Shapes with rounded edges bake best, because sharp points (on stars, for example) tend to get too brown. These caveats aside, shortbread is really quite easy to make.”

With the forthcoming holiday season, make this dough now and freeze in shapes. Once November and December roll around, pull out and bake. You’ll be ahead of the game and sure to enjoy the season stress-free. Read Levine’s baking tips here.

A grandparent-grandchild activity: Once your grandchildren have finished decorating their edible masterpieces, have them give as gifts for the holidays. When wrapped and presented as such, cookies make great gifts — especially since they’re from the heart.

Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup superfine sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated zest of half a lemon
1 2/3 cups (8 ounces) unbleached flour
4 teaspoons granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Directions:
1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle blade, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest on medium speed until lemony-yellow in color and a fluffy texture for about 2 minutes. With the machine on very low speed, gradually add the flour, mixing until the dough is soft and pliable. Do not overmix. Gather the dough into a ball.

2. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle the top with flour. Roll into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle. Place on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic wrap loosely over the dough to enclose it, keeping the edges of the wrap at the right angles. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to fill the corners of the wrap. (This will give you a nice rectangle that will be easy to roll out after chilling.) Transfer to a baking sheet and refrigerate until the dough is chilled and firm, but not rock hard, about 1 hour.

3. Position the racks in the corner and top-third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

4. Rap the four edges of the dough rectangle a few times on the work surface. Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Roll out the dough into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle. (If the dough cracks, it is too cold; let stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes and try again.)

5. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter dipped in flour, cut out the shortbread, cutting them out very closely to reduce the number of scraps. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1/2-inch space between the cookies. Gather up the dough, rewrap in plastic, roll into another 1/4-inch thick rectangle, chill for about 10 minutes, and cut out more cookies. Repeat chilling and cutting until all the dough is cut out.

6. Bake, switching the position of the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking, until the shortbread is very lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle the cookies with the granulated sugar (the sugar will not stick if the cookies aren’t hot). Cool the cookies completely on the baking sheets.

Yield: Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

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