There's a special day during the holiday season when we close down the studio, turn on the music, and make dozens of holiday cookies. We used to make these with our daughters, put them in cellophane bags and deliver them to the people we care about. The recipe makes very delicate cookies you can decorate simply and elegantly (as we like to do). People will look forward to them all year long.
Add the softened butter to the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. Sift together the flour and salt and set aside.
Cream the butter on medium speed. Add the egg and egg yolk to the bowl, and continue on medium speed.Add the sugars to the mixer, and mix on medium-high speed, until creamy and fluffy.Add the vanilla bean paste (or extract) to the mixing bowl, and continue to mix on medium-high, scraping down the bowl as necessary.With the mixer on low, add the flour in several batches, until it's all added.
Cut 8 individual pieces of parchment paper and set aside.Divide the dough into 4 equal sized pieces, and roll each piece between two sheets of parchment paper, to less than 1/4-inch thick. Refrigerate the sheets of dough for at least 4 hours.
Remove one sheet of dough from the refrigerator. Peel the top sheet of parchment paper from the dough, and cut shapes with cookie cutters. Move the cookies to a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper) with a very thin, metal spatula. Decorate with sprinkles, and return the sheets to the refrigerator to chill again, for 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining sheets of dough.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the sheets from the refrigerator and bake for 7 to 9 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the center is set.
Remove the cookies from the oven, and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. Optional variations: Coconut Cookies: Follow directions for making Sugar Cookie dough, substituting 1 tsp coconut extract for the vanilla. Lemon Cookies: Follow directions for making Sugar Cookie dough, substituting 1 Tbsp freshly grated lemon zest and 2 tsps fresh lemon juice for the vanilla. Nut Cookies: Follow directions for making Sugar Cookie dough. Sprinkle the tops of the cut-out dough with ½ cup chopped nuts before baking. (Don't use toasted nuts; the raw nuts will toast while baking.) Orange-Rosemary Cookies: Follow directions for making Sugar Cookie dough, substituting freshly grated zest of 2 oranges (1½–2 Tbsp) and 1 Tbsp finely minced rosemary leaves for the vanilla.
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