It’s back to the Christmas cookies again, and today I’m doing the one I should have started with – I say this because I started with several challenging cookies, when I should have eased into the project. Today’s choice is arguably the simplest Christmas cookie of all time – a Swedish butter cookie. I make my case on the fact that this cookie has four ingredients – butter, sugar, flour, and the jam you slip into the thumb imprint on the top of each cookie. Not even salt, baking powder, or vanilla! Oh, I hear you already – “How can a cookie made of butter, sugar, and flour be as good as one of the fancy ones?” Well folks, this cookie is one of the world’s favorite Christmas cookies, and has been for some time!
Have you ever bought one of those tins of butter cookies that your local grocery stacks up by the thousands every holiday season? Yeah, you know the ones I mean – those simple little cookies shaped like stars, or circles, or squares. Yeah – the little cookies that are so buttery that from the time you tasted your first one, you knew they were telling the truth about them being “butter” cookies. Yup, that little butter cookie is the commercial version of this simple cookie – and it’s a Christmas classic. And if you liked those, you’ll love these!
Now when I tell you simple, I mean SIMPLE. You don’t even need to chill this dough before shaping into small balls and pressing with your thumb. The toughest part of this cookie is creaming the butter and sugar, and how hard is that – really? (BTW, if you have a stand mixer like a Kitchen Aid, always use your paddle attachment to cream butter/sugar; it works much better than the whip – and if you don’t have a stand mixer, you’ll work real hard working this very stiff dough.) A further plus – when this dough comes together, it cleans your bowl nicely, and literally falls off the paddle, unlike many stickier doughs.
Here are a few more hints to make this easy cookie even easier – The amount of butter in the basic recipe (link here) is ½ lb., and it says to have it at room temp. To me, that’s not soft enough to make the “creaming” go easy (unless you’re in an area where the outdoor temp is above 85 degrees!), so I slip the butter into my microwave for about 25 seconds (for a ½ lb. chunk) – keep an eye on it, and don’t wait until it starts to melt – after 15 seconds, open the door and just touch it – if it’s soft, it’s ready. And use salted butter – I’m quite sure the absence of salt in this recipe is because of the assumption that most cooks nowadays use salted butter. If you only use unsalted butter (like me), add ½ tsp of fine salt, or ¾ tsp of kosher salt to the basic recipe.
Now, the recipe doesn’t say “butter your cookie sheet”, but do it anyway – yes, this cookie has lots of butter in it already, and ought not to stick, but you’re using jam on top, and if some melts down the side – and it will – guess what? Anyway, will a little extra butter flavor hurt? Butter your cookie sheet.
Another element of this cookie’s simplicity is the amount of time you’ll be in the kitchen messing with it. Most cookies require at least 2-3 hours total time, sometimes more. From walking into the kitchen to pulling the pans out of the oven was exactly 1 hour, 32 minutes – and that’s with a few breaks!
Normally, I’d tell you that I’m the kind of baker who finds it hard to strictly follow a recipe – basically, I see a recipe as a work in progress – and I usually think I’ll be the guy who improves this recipe. Sure, you could add some vanilla to this recipe, and you’d still have a delicious cookie. But in my heart I know that this cookie has passed the test of time because of its simplicity. The flour and the sugar act as a frame for the goodness of the butter to shine forth, and the balance of the three is near perfection. No, don’t mess with this one – just do it in its simplest iteration, and marvel at its wonderfulness.
And always remember – it’s the butter!