This Christmas cookie comes from my great-grandmother’s recipe box, and it’s marked with the name ‘Hazel’ in the upper corner. It’s no doubt one that my great-aunt Hazel (my grandmother Dorothy’s sister) made. I love that it’s handwritten in ink on a simple lined index card. And there are helpful notes, like this: “You really need butter to make them good.” And “Half this recipes makes a lot of cookies.”
Indeed: Half the recipe made A LOT of cookies, nearly 90 of them. And yes, you really do need all that butter (Hazel’s original recipe calls for a full pound).
I just love these simple Christmas cookies — they’re small and pretty enough to feel really special, but not at all fussy and decorative. The butter and almonds make for a tender cookie that’s more flavorful than shortbread. And they’re easy to make ahead and store; like most all-butter cookies, they get better after a day or two.
Add these to your lineup of Christmas cookies this year!
Great Aunt Hazel's vanilla bean cookies
makes about 7 dozen
1 whole vanilla bean (see Note)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup raw slivered blanched almonds, ground fine
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened at room temp
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Place powdered sugar in a medium bowl and grate the vanilla bean over the sugar using a fine microplane grater. (See Note.) Whisk to combine Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer) cream the butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour, ground almonds and salt and stir to combine. Divide the dough into thirds and roll each piece into a log about 1 1/4 inch in diameter; use your hands to firmly press the dough together as you roll to prevent holes in the middle. Wrap each roll in waxed paper and chill at least 2 hours, up to 1 day.
Preheat oven to 350°; line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the dough with a sharp knife into slices no thicker than 1/4 inch. Place the slices on the prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10–12 minutes or until the cookies are just barely beginning to show a bit of golden brown around the edges, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Let the cookies cool just slightly, then gently coat them in the vanilla powdered sugar. Let them cool completely on a wire rack, then again coat them in powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 1 week, or freeze up to 3 months.
Note: Grating a vanilla bean is kind of tedious. I found it much easier to grate an older vanilla bean that I'd had for a while than the fresh one I bought; it was easier to grate the bean that was somewhat dried out. If you have vanilla beans that are soft, or get frustrated by the process, then simply scrape the seeds from 1 1/2 whole beans over the powdered sugar and whisk to combine.
Got leftover vanilla sugar? Use a medium mesh strainer to sift out any cookie crumbs; store the sugar and use it to flavor whipped cream, dust over pancakes or make glaze or icing for your holiday baking.