Holiday cookies from Alsace

These small cookies in festive shapes are perfect for the holidays, and the recipe is a cinch. It comes straight from Alsace, where butterbredel — ‘butter cookies’– are traditionally served during the Hanukah/Christmas season, and in fact year round in some families. To get an authentic look, use small cookie cutters if you have them.

Unlike American Christmas cookies, where the decoration tends to be colorful, these cookies are glazed with a simple wash of egg yolk and milk. The glazing will be easiest if you have a pastry brush. I would also highly recommend investing in parchment paper, which prevents the cookies, and in fact any pastry, from burning on the bottom.

Expect to spend about an hour making the cookies — 10 minutes to make the dough, 10 minutes to chill it, 10 minutes to cut out the shapes, and 10 minutes baking time per batch. This recipe gave me 16 small pine trees, 16 small stockings and 18 slightly larger stars, for a total of 50 cookies.

1/8 pound (60 g) unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1-2/3 cup (250 g) flour, plus extra for flouring a board

3/8 cup (75 g) sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder (1/2 paquet levure chimique)
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk for the glaze
1/4 cup (60 ml) milk, plus 2 tsp. for the glaze
1/2 tsp. vanilla sugar or 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt the butter. Set aside.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl — flour, sugar and baking powder, and the vanilla sugar if using. Stir to mix.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and crack the egg in. Add the milk, the melted butter and the vanilla extract if using. Stir to mix.

Go in with your hands for the final blending. The dough should be pliable and not sticky. Form it into a ball and set it in the fridge to rest for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (350 F, 180 C).

While the oven is heating, make the glaze. In a small bowl, mix together one egg yolk and 2 tsp. milk. Stir to blend. Have a pastry brush at the ready.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, butter the baking sheet and dust lightly with flour.

When the dough has chilled briefly, place it on a floured board, pat it out into a thick circle, lift it up and add more flour to the board beneath it so it will not stick. Then roll it out with a floured rolling pin — not too thin, about  1/5 inch (5 mm).

Use small cookie cutters to form shapes. Transfer them to the baking sheet, making sure not to place them too close together since the dough will expand as it cooks.

Now paint the cookies gently with the glaze.

Place in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cookies turn golden. Check often to make sure they do not burn.

When the cookies are ready, use a spatula to transfer them to a board or rack to cool. Be careful — they are delicate.

You can serve the cookies right away or store them in a tin for a couple of weeks. Makes 50-60 small cookies.

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