lemon butter cookies

by Patricia on December 3, 2009 · 14 comments

12 days of cookies: lemon butter cookies

You might call these refrigerator cookies or icebox cookies… or slice and bake cookies. I call them a great way to plan ahead. I am all about finding ways to make cookie dough ahead of time for quick and easy treats later. And now that we’re fully into the holiday season, it is extra important to me. I like to give out small bags filled with cookies to my friends, but I want them to be fresh.. cause who wants a stale cookie?

Anyway, that said, I don’t think I’ve given the slice-and-bake style cookies a fair shake. My first experience with them years ago was a crazy checkerboard cookie from Martha Stewart which left me feeling overworked and underpaid. If I’m going to go through the trouble of making a cute checkerboard with cookie dough, I really want the flavors to stand out. Now, admittedly, this was a long time ago (please don’t make me say how long… let’s just say it was when I was young and naive… ) so I can’t really remember what it tasted like. But then if it were amazing I think I would have remembered… you know? All I remember is that making the two doughs and then shaping them and stacking them and cutting them and… it just wasn’t worth it for me. It did look cool, but looks aren’t everything… I don’t think I’ve made a refrigerator cookie since then.

12 days of cookies: lemon butter cookies

Until today. I wanted to be able to freeze some cookie dough (like the chocolate chocolate mint chip cookies from yesterday). And I wanted variety. Anyway, long story short, I made lemon icebox cookies. Shaping the logs was a little frustrating because I see the pictures of these perfectly round cookies on Epicurious, Martha Stewart, and in Dorie Greenspans’ book, and my dough log was definitely not perfectly round. It was tapered and had bulges. Dorie Greenspan mentioned in her book that using an empty paper towel tube can help to keep it round. So I tried it. I think it worked, but was kind of a pain: cutting open the tube, getting the dough squeezed down enough to fit, then taping up the tube to hold its shape. (I’m beginning to think I make things harder than they need to be *or* I’m just a whiner). So I have one log wrapped in a paper towel cardboard tube in my freezer as we speak. For the second log, I used a thin, flexible chopping mat… with the dough already in a lumpy log form wrapped in plastic, I rolled the chopping mat around it into a tube. That seemed to work. At least until it came time to slice…

12 days of cookies: lemon butter cookies

straight up sliced

In the end, I sliced the cookies then used a small cookie cutter to make them perfectly round. I’ve decided to believe this is how Martha and all of the rest really do it.

12 days of cookies: lemon butter cookies

cookie cutter enhanced

Anyway, this is my first time making these cookies. They come out crispy and buttery. I wish the lemon flavor were stronger though, so next time I may add more lemon zest and/or lemon juice. In the meantime, I made a quick royal icing with powdered sugar and lemon juice and glazed the cookies. Yum.

12 days of cookies: lemon butter cookies

Lemon Butter Cookies

(adapted from Gourmet, December 2003)

As is, this recipe produces a good, basic butter cookie with a hint of lemon. If I had to do again, I would increase the lemon zest and juice to get more lemony flavor. Adding a lemony icing also adds an extra bit of zing.

Makes about 4 dozen.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 /1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. Beat together the butter and sugar until it is pale and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg. Then mix in the lemon zest and lemon juice.
  3. Add the flour mixture until it just combined.
  4. Form the dough into a 12 inch log (2 inch diameter) [I wound up with 1 1/2 paper towel roll-sized logs.]. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about 4 hours).
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice dough logs into 1/8 to 1/4 inch slices. Place about 1/2 inch apart on a cookie sheet.
  6. Bake 12 to 15 minutes [Depending on your oven, it might be less. Mine got more brown than I wanted in 12 minutes… especially the edges that I rolled in sugar.] Cool on cookie sheet for about 3 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely.


  • Instead of forming logs and chilling for 4 hours, you could form the dough into balls and roll it in sugar (like the deep well cookies). Bake until bottoms are brown, about 12-15 minutes.
  • If you’d like to have a sparkly-sugary edge on your cookies, brush the edge of the dough log with a lightly beaten egg yolk, then roll it in sugar (could be really cute with colored sugars). Just watch the baking time… sugar seems to make it brown faster. [I didn’t brush the cookies with egg yolk, so the sugar on the edges is pretty minimal.]
  • Optionally, you can sprinkle the tops of the cookies with sugar before baking.


1 Mark January 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm

So, I’m much more a cook than a baker, but I like to dabble. My wife and I made these today, and they’re wonderful. We didn’t have a lemon around, so used some key lime zest we had stored in the freezer (wonderful!).

We were short on time, so we just balled and baked… and I was wondering, when you’ve done that, do they end up having a hard time staying together? We had quite a few where the middle separated from the outer shell, and I don’t think any of them really had a good bottom on them. No bottom browning at all, even though the edges started to. Any thoughts as to why?

We did have a fun thought because of this mishap, however. We made a royal icing, as you suggested above, and I just made it a little thick, slathered it on the bottom of one cookie and sandwiched it with another. Delightful!

Anywho… great recipe, thanks for posting it.

2 Butter December 12, 2009 at 3:57 pm

These were a huge hit- I left off the egg yolk (pure laziness and the fact that I had no immediate use for the whites), rolled the outer edge of the dough in raw sugar, and sliced ’em up. They are no where near round- look kind of like poker chips that have been run over by a train, but who cares? they taste just as good.

3 Patricia December 14, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Taste always trumps looks. I thought about leaving out the egg yolk for the same reason… glad to hear it works just as well without :)

4 Judy December 11, 2009 at 4:31 am

oh, that close up… what a close up! And it’s your first time making these cookies? They look absolutely gorgeous.

5 Dez December 6, 2009 at 1:32 pm

When thinking of Martha, I find it useful to take her with a grain of salt the size of my head and remember that she has a staff. I adore her, but my staff is a border collie who supervises and makes me say things like “dog hair is a condiment.” While presentation is always an element, it will still taste delicious!

6 Patricia December 7, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Totally agree Dez. Those checkerboard cookies definitely taught me a lot about how different Martha and I are :)

7 mango December 5, 2009 at 3:48 pm

I love how everyone’s giving their suggestions. For me, when I slice them, I just slice them while rolling so that I’m not pressing on any part of the dough for too long. They look delicious, and I’m going to try this recipe, too :)

8 Patricia December 7, 2009 at 4:32 pm

In her book, Dorie Greenspan mentions turning the log 1/4 turn with each slice, but when I did that I wound up with squares. I’m not sure I’m coordinated to roll while slicing but I’ll give it a shot :)

9 ginger December 5, 2009 at 3:00 pm

try using a sushi mat

10 Patricia December 7, 2009 at 4:31 pm

ginger – great idea! I’ll definitely try a sushi mat next time.

11 kathy b December 4, 2009 at 2:58 pm

I am afriad I am drooling….

12 Cindy December 4, 2009 at 11:53 am

Try using thread or dental floss to cut the cold cookie dough – that’s what my mama always did – nice little rounds with no thumb dents or squished bottoms :)

13 Patricia December 7, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Hmm… that’s a good idea Cindy, I’ll have to try that next time. I know Alton Brown likes to use dental floss for some things like this (I just never think of it myself).

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