Who Says Vanilla Has To Be Boring...

The sugar cookies that I slaved over most of the day yesterday might be the most attractive cookie in this year's Cookie Bonanza assortment, but the diminutive Spritz cookies that I also made and piped at the same time are far more delicious. Since Mom had gifted me a cookie press this year for Christmas, I felt I should employ it to make Spritz cookies, the buttery shortbread-style cookies that are common around the holidays, and often sent in tins as a corporate gift. This recipe, which I had spotted (again) in Martha Stewart's Cookies: The Very Best Treats To Bake And Share, blows those mundane tins of butter cookies out of the water. Flavored with real vanilla beans (which gave me a much-appreciated excuse to peruse the local gourmet shop) and a hint of cinnamon, these bite-sized cookies are dangerously addictive. If you happen to have a cookie press sitting around collecting dust somewhere, this recipe comes highly recommended from me.

To make them extra-special for Christmas, I decided to accentuate them with a bit of festive piping, to underscore the fact that they are supposed to be Christmas trees. Martha suggested dusting them with cinnamon sugar when they were hot out of the oven, which I thought overpowered the delicate vanilla flavor. If you are going to go the dusting route, I would suggest vanilla sugar, but frankly, they are perfectly tasty when left plain.

Vanilla-Bean Spritz Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart

3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
1 c. sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large egg yolks

1. Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together flour, salt, and cinnamon.
2. Beat vanilla seeds and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until incorporated, about three minutes (sugar will clump together slightly). Add butter, and beat until pale and fluffy. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and beat until just smooth.
3. Divide dough into portions the size of your cookie press barrel. Pack one portion of dough into the press (Martha suggests using the wreath-shaped die, but I thought mine looked too much like a flower, so I went with the Christmas tree die), and press shapes about an inch apart onto baking sheets. Bake until edges are golden, 9 to 12 minutes.
4. Let cookies cool on wire racks. For a festive touch, pipe with royal icing, or leave plain. Cookies will keep for up to 4 days in an airtight container.

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