I have a notebook. A tattered, spiral notebook. It holds recipe clippings and handwritten "keepers" collected from the very early years of my marriage to Dick. There is a handwritten, vanilla splattered recipe written on a yellowed sheet of paper in that tattered spiral notebook. It is one that I've used countless times over the past 39 years to make cutout cookies for Valentines Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.
Whereas, during my daughter's childhood, we would have used that recipe, my granddaughter and I chose a "Butter Cut-Out Cookies" recipe from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess because the cookbook was sitting on her kitchen counter... and it was beckoning us to peek inside. Sometimes cutout cookie dough is so fragile that it falls apart while transferring it from the rolling surface to the cookie sheet. This can be especially problematic when a young child is the baker. I can't be sure if it was Nigella Lawson's recipe, the extra thickness we allowed when rolling the dough, or my granddaughter's skill, but the process went so smoothly, and the cookies were devoured so rapidly, that we made a second batch a few days later. I chose to reduce the butter and sugar a bit and we used whole wheat pastry flour instead of cake flour.
Nigella Lawson’s Butter Cut-Out Cookies
¾ cup soft unsalted butter (I used ½ cup.)
¾ cup sugar (I used ½ cup.)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 2/3 cups cake flour, plus more if needed (I used whole wheat pastry flour.)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Preheat oven to 350°. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and moving towards 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. 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 into fat discs, wrap each half in plastic wrap (or natural parchment or wax paper), and rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. 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 a little more flour on top of 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. Bake for 8–12 minutes, by which time they will be lightly golden around the edges. Cool on a rack and continue with the rest of the dough. When they’re all fully cooled, you can get on with the icing. Put a couple tablespoons of just-not-boiling water into a large bowl, add the powdered sugar, and mix together, adding more water as you need to form a thick paste. Color as desired.