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Making holiday cookies? Start with the basics

Perhaps you're short on time and you need dozens of cookies for a cookie exchange or to give as gifts. If you're a smart cookie,

Perhaps you're short on time and you need dozens of cookies for a cookie exchange or to give as gifts. If you're a smart cookie,

you'll consider making one basic dough that has many uses.

This basic recipe for vanilla dough is adapted from the December issue of Martha Stewart Living. One batch is enough to make about 5 dozen cookies. Or divide the dough in half and make several varieties from just the one batch.


3 cups all-purpose flour or

unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

(omit if making thumbprints, ball cookies or spritz cookies)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter,


1 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed for at least 3 minutes or until pale and fluffy.

Beat in the egg, mixing well after it's added, and then add the vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and beat until combined.

If not using dough right away, wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. You can freeze the dough: Wrap well in plastic wrap and place in a sealable bag. It will keep for a month.

Chocolate variation: Replace 1/3 cup of the flour with 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder.

Spice variation: Add 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper when you add the flour mixture.

Citrus variation: Replace the vanilla extract with 1 teaspoon finely grated citrus zest (lemon, lime or orange) and 1 tablespoon fresh citrus juice.

Makes 5 dozen cookies.

Here are variations to try.

Apricot Pistachio Thumbprints: You will need 1 batch of vanilla dough, 3/4 cup finely chopped or ground pistachios or walnuts and about 1/2 cup apricot jam. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and roll them into the chopped nuts to coat. Place the balls an inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Press a well in the center of each one and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 7 minutes, remove from the oven and press in the well again using the handle of a wooden spoon. Return to oven and bake 7 to 9 minutes more. Remove from oven, cool completely and spoon jam into the thumbprints.

Sparkle Tree Cut-Outs: Shape any dough variation into 2 disks and refrigerate until firm. Roll out to about 1/8-inch thickness and cut out desired shapes. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Decorate as desired with icing, sugars, glaze or chocolate.