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When I was a kid, my grandmother would keep tins of Royal Dansk–brand cookies at her house. I'd pick through the ruffled paper liners to find my favorite ones (the rings dusted with coarse sugar, of course), biting into them and feeling the crisp crumb melt away into buttery richness on my tongue.* Spritz cookies are great any time of year, but they're especially nice around the holidays because you can bake them into festive shapes using a cookie press and decorate them with colorful sanding or decorating sugar.
* Okay, to be fair, this is what I wish I had been thinking about. Really, it was just SUGAR.
The ingredients list is remarkably simple: just butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, eggs, and flour. And even though spritz cookies with deformed features or overly browned edges will still taste great, as with most simple foods, it's the technique that holds the key to taking good up to perfect. Our technique, which we first developed a few years ago, has its own tricks to ensure success.
The first is to cream the butter and the sugar. And I mean really cream that butter and sugar. A full seven minutes in the stand mixer is what we're looking for to produce the lightest, crispest cookies possible.
Not only that, but after adding an egg, you cream the mixture again for five to seven minutes. This is the key to that light-yet-rich texture and buttery flavor with no greasiness.
Even more important than creaming is the way in which you incorporate the flour. Simply adding the flour to the stand mixer and beating it in runs the risk of overdeveloping gluten and giving you a tough or dense cookie (not what you want after all that work with the creaming). Instead, the best method is to add the flour and mix it in by hand, stopping as soon as no dry flour remains.
The final trick comes when you're actually pressing the cookies out using your spritz cookie press: working directly on a baking sheet, and making sure that the baking sheet is cold. You don't want any spreading while the cookies bake, so nonstick spray, silicone, or parchment paper liners (all of which are designed to enhance slipping) are out of the picture. Plain old aluminum baking sheets are best, and keeping them cold as you work quickly to pipe out the cookies works in exactly the same way that chilling a pie crust before baking helps it retain its shape.
Once you've nailed those steps, the rest is all window dressing. But nobody said you can't have fun dressing those windows.
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