Why It Works
- Creaming the butter by machine but stirring in the flour by hand gives you great aeration without overdeveloping gluten for superior crunch and a melt-in-your-mouth texture.
- Using cold, clean baking sheets ensures that the cookies keep a nice shape as they are piped.
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.
Properly Cream Butter, Sugar, and Egg
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.
Hand Mix the Flour
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.
Use Cold Baking Sheets
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.
Editor’s note: For tips on filling and using the cookie press, see the recipe notes.
Once you've nailed those steps, the rest is all window dressing. But nobody said you can't have fun dressing those windows.
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks; 225g)
- 7 ounces granulated sugar (about 1 cup; 200g)
- Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
- 1 teaspoon (5g) salt
- 1/4 teaspoon (1 to 2g) ground cardamom (optional)
- 1 egg
- 11 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour, sifted (about 2 1/4 cups; 325g) (see note)
- Sanding sugar, sugar decorations, and candied fruits for decorating (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) (see note). In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, salt, and cardamom on high speed, stopping often to scrape down the sides, until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 7 minutes total. Add the egg and beat again, stopping often to scrape down the sides and beater, until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes.
Stop the mixer and add the sifted flour all at once. Mix on the lowest speed just until the flour starts to incorporate with the butter mixture, 15 to 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and finish the job by hand using a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Take care to only mix until the dough is homogeneous.
Press the dough into the tube of the cookie press, turning the tube as you go for even distribution of dough (see note). Screw in the desired pattern and pipe quickly onto the surface of cool, clean metal baking sheets (do not use nonstick trays, silicone liners, or parchment paper). Work quickly and rhythmically; try not to stop as you pipe out the cookies. If you are not satisfied with the shape, scrape them off the pan with an offset spatula and reload the dough.
Sprinkle with decorations, if desired, and bake for 5 to 7 minutes for small cookies, 7 to 9 minutes for larger ones, turning halfway through. Spritz cookies are traditionally baked to a pale golden-blond color, but baking until a bit darker yields a crispy cookie with toffee notes. Watch the cookies carefully for browning at the edges if you are aiming to make a lighter cookie. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool on their baking sheets for 5 minutes before loosening with an offset spatula and transferring to a cooling rack. Cool completely before serving. The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Spritz are very delicate and the mixing process is light. Sifting the flour beforehand ensures that you won't have dry spots in the finished cookies and makes mixing easier, resulting in a cookie that's tender.
To get really pretty cookies, which is sort of the point of making spritz, the cookie press is essential. It not only gives you a uniform shape each time, but its clicking action helps you dose out the dough in uniform amounts.
Follow the manufacture's instructions for assembling your dough press, as they vary a bit from model to model. When filling the tube with the dough, the goal is to try to eliminate air pockets, which can cause unevenly piped cookies. Using a spatula, press the dough into the tube, and rotate the tube as you fill it, so there's no one side of the tube getting more pressure than the other.
Squeeze the handle for one click to dispense the dough, then pull the press up and away at a right angle.
Be sure that you've preheated the oven to 375°F (190°C) before putting the cookies in. Baking them in a cooler oven will cause them to melt and lose their shape.
Don’t re-use baking sheets without washing them and drying them thoroughly.