4 sticks unsalted butter (yes, that’s 1 lb. of butter) (generic)
1 1/8 c. granulated sugar
2 lg. eggs
5 t. homemade vanilla extract
the caviar from 2 vanilla beans (“caviar” is a fancy word for that black stuff scraped out)
grated zest from 1 lemon (I use my microplane grater for this)
4 c. unbleached white flour (I use generic)
1 c. whole wheat flour (again, generic)
generous pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a stand mixer, combine the room-temp. butter and sugar on a medium-high speed, being careful to start mixing slowly so the sugar doesn’t go up in a cloud. The mixture will have an even consistency to it after approx. 2 minutes of mixing. To this mixture, add the 2 eggs, caviar (so fancy!), vanilla extract and grated lemon zest. Mix at a low speed until they’re blended (“mixed up real good” is how the locals say it), and then slowly adding the flour and salt, again, making sure to start slowly so your flour doesn’t go up in a cloud. Drape plastic wrap over a bowl and put the dough inside. Cover the dough completely with the overhanging plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cool, because this gives the dough the malleability needed to work with it.
(one hour later)
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and place on top of a very clean, well-floured (or sugared) counter. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough until it’s the desired thickness (about a 1/4 in., but like anyone will measure). You’ve got it from here: use clean cookie cutters to make whatever shapes look fun. For a February church event, I made hearts and crosses. Place the shapes on top of parchment paper on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 for 9 minutes, rotating 180 degrees halfway through. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. At that time, move the cookies to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.
While it’s key to let the baking sheets cool down completely for the next batch (America’s Test Kitchen has a nice article on this), I was able to reuse the parchment paper. Store in an air-tight container, but let’s be real, you won’t be storing them long.
As modified from http://www.annies-eats.com, allrecipes.com, and Alton Brown’s recipe on foodnetwork.com.
Regarding name-brand vs. generic ingredients, I think the generics offered locally can even taste better than name brands. I get my vanilla beans from Beanilla.com, and no, they don’t pay me. I do have an affinity for high-end kitchen gear, be it my extra large stand-mixer, the restaurant grade baking sheets, or Microplane grater. I usually get that stuff off eBay if I’m paying for it, or given to me as holiday presents.