Makes 18 to 20 cookies, 3 to 4 inches each
In lieu of evergreens or tinsel this season, deck your halls with these sugar cookies. The bottoms are studded with anise seeds for flavor, leaving the tops free and clear for Royal Icing and other decorations.
• 2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
• 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 1⁄3 cup shortening
• 3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 large egg
• 1 tablespoon whole milk
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or anise oil, to taste
• 2 to 3 tablespoons anise seeds (for sprinkling on cookie sheets)
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Set aside. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and shortening until just combined. Gradually add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk and vanilla. Slowly add egg mixture to creamed butter and sugar; blend thoroughly. Add reserved dry ingredients, stirring gently to just combine. Flatten dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill until quite firm, at least 3 hours.
Place a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two 15-by-10-inch cookie sheets with parchment paper, sprinkle evenly with anise seeds and set aside. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1⁄8-inch thickness. Cut out assorted holiday shapes with your favorite cookie cutters. Carefully transfer cookies to prepared cookie sheets, leaving about an inch between each shape. (Make sure anise seeds stay underneath the cookies where they will impart flavor but won’t be seen.) Bake 8 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around edges. Immediately transfer to cooling racks and cool completely before frosting with Royal Icing or storing.
Make-ahead tip: For maximum flavor, eat these cookies within a few days of baking. If you intend to use them primarily for decoration, you can make them a week or more ahead. In any case, be sure to seal the cookies in airtight containers and store at room temperature — even after they are iced — to keep them crisp.
Julia M. Usher is a food writer, recipe developer and food stylist in St. Louis. Contact her by visiting www.HerbCompanion.com/contributors.aspx .