lemon buttermilk cookies.

You may say to yourself “my my! aren’t those some jaunty little asterisks! I wonder who makes punctuation cookie cutters?” Answer: no one. This is a shamrock cookie cutter, circa (like almost every kitchen purchase I make) 1950’s and was in a box with other “holiday” cutters made to span the whole year. And this, my friends, is a little extra St. Patrick’s Day cheer for you. The irish coffee blondies were sophisticated; these, quite obviously, are not. But they are a happy little cookie, and today they’re serving as vehicle for a little royal icing tutorial.

These are lemon buttermilk cookies. They are much like sugar cookies, but with a little bit of a lightness to them and a nice, lemony bite. They only puff slightly when baked, so they’re an ideal alternative to a normal sugar cookie and for when your cookie cutters have more detail than say, a circle or square. The shamrocks fared quite well and, asterisk jokes aside, still look like the little St. Patrick’s Day icons they are. In short, a really delicious and light cookie to make if you’re wanting something a bit different. I know in the spring, my lemon cravings kick back up again, so these will be a favorite around here for a while.

This is my favorite, use-it-all-the-time royal icing recipe; you can find it here. It couldn’t be easier, and you can make it in your sleep. It’s just lemons, confectioner’s sugar, and some egg whites. Please also notice another essential tool for icing cookies: the small plastic storage bag. I know there are some out there who will tell you the only proper vessel for icing is a parchment cone. I am not one of those people. I like the storage bags because their creased shape is easy to fill, easier to hold, and allows you to scissor the tip exactly how you want it.

The true beauty of this icing is that you really can just go back and forth with dry and wet ingredients to make it exactly the consistency you want. Too stiff? add a small amount of the lemon juice. Whoops, you made it too runny? Fine. Add more confectioner’s sugar. Just make sure that you have the consistency you want before loading it into the bags.

As for the food coloring, I really only use the gel color paste for strong colors like these. The liquid changes the consistency of things if you use more than a few drops, so you want to buy the good stuff. I get the Wilton brand, which you can find almost anywhere they sell cake supplies.

And now, we shall ice.

Step 1: Make your icing using the recipe and tips above. There are some additional tips in the original icing post; look over those as well. Get it to a good, non-watery consistency which is similar to, let’s say, a pancake batter. No drippy icing, please, or this will be a very aggravating and most likely futile process.

Step 2: Using your filled storage bag, carefully line the perimeter of the cookie. Try to stay just inside of the drop-off point; if you get too close to the edge, the icing will fall right over and drizzle down the sides. Leaving a small cookie border around the outside edge keeps your icing in place and gives your cookies a very “finished” look when you’re done.

Step 3: Once you’ve completed your border, you’re ready to fill. Sort of scrawl your icing on your cookie, sticking towards the center, especially if your cookies are smaller, like these. then, working out, gently push the puddles of icing towards your border. Now, you don’t have to let your border dry before doing the fill; however, I find it easier if it’s a little bit solid. Accomplish this by using my favorite assembly line method; outline all your cookies first, then go back to the beginning and fill. By the time you return to the first cookie you outlined, it should be nice and solid.

And there you have it! The basic icing flood/fill. And they come out looking like little professional cookies every time. And you can do more with your icing; Just remember, if you do use two or more colors on the same cookie, you truly do need to let each individual color dry before beginning the next one. For example: if you wanted to do your outlines in yellow and your insides in green, then do the yellow outline first, let dry completely, then fill with green. White polka dots on a light green background? Try doing the outline in green, the fill in green, then let dry almost all the way, the add your white dots. If you want raised dots, dry completely and you’ll get that effect.

Even if you don’t ice these cookies, they are delicious. And I really do mean that. I had several “mishaps” around here that caused me to have extras I just had to dispose of. Immediately. As snacks for myself. Without icing, they’re a nice, tender cookie. Icing them gives them that little snap at the top and accentuates the lemon a little bit. As an alternative to the royal icing, you can brush these with buttermilk before baking to give them a bit of a gloss.

Adapted from Art of the Cookie: Baking Up Inspiration by the Dozen by Shelly Kaldunski. A book I can not seem to tear myself away from.

Lemon Buttermilk Cookies

  • 3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2-3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (I like a lemony cookie, so I went with around 3 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons buttermilk*
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 recipe royal icing

*you don’t have buttermilk? This time I did, but often I do not. Fear not; you can make it. Buttermilk can be made using 1 cup milk and 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Mix together and let sit out at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Boom: buttermilk.

 In a bowl, whisk together the 3 cups flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), beat your butter and sugar together until fluffy and light, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and lemon zest and beat on low speed until the egg is completely incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again for about 10 seconds. Add the lemon juice and buttermilk and beat for about 1 minute, until everything is combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.

 Beating on low speed slowly add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Your dough will look a little shaggy and slightly crumbly, but will hold together.

 Remove from mixer or bowl and press with your hands to form a rough ball. On wax paper or your countertop, take the ball and knead it several times until you feel like the dough has come fully together and there are no loose sections. Flatten into a disk or rectangle (nothing fancy here) and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

 When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. if you want, get out a few extra sheets of parchment paper (and baking sheets, if you have them) and have them at the ready. It helps with cutter cookies when you can just keep going after you fill the first sheet.

 Note: I do not, nor do I ever really recommend baking off cookies more than one sheet at a time. Unless you have a super-oven, they’re never going to come out even and you will likely ruin at least one batch and/or dissolve into tears of frustration. Don’t let this happen to you; bake these, and all cookies, one batch at a time.

 Lightly flour a work surface and your rolling pin. Roll out your dough evenly until it is roughly 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick. I roll mine on the thicker side of things, because it does make for easier handling. Using cookie cutters, cut the cookies into desired shapes and use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to their baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Press your dough scraps together and repeat until all your dough is gone.

 Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are very lightly golden on the bottom (you can see this sometimes by looking at the bottom sides; if you can’t, use the metal spatula and gently flip up one to take a look at the underside) 8-10 minutes. Check your cookies after the 8 minute mark, because they do go crispier fast.

 Let cool on baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely (especially if you’re icing them) at least 30 minutes.

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  • Reply Brianne March 16, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Royal icing terrifies me! For real. I’m all about using a plastic bag for the icing, but what if I put all the icing in and I cut the hole too big?! That’s my biggest worry. Also, YUM on this flavor combination. I made smitten kitchen’s nutmeg maple butter cookies at Christmas, and I am dying to try another butter cookie recipe.

    My mother, bless her heart, has amassed the craziest cookie cutter collection I’ve ever seen. She has a lobster, a golf bag, a sword, and a plethora of other wacky shapes. Baking sugar cookies at home is always an adventure!

    • Reply shannon March 17, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      oh no! it used to terrify me as well, believe me. i’d see recipes for fancy royal icings that had all these steps in them, and i thought, no way: way too finicky. That’s why i like this one…you can kinda mess it up 8 different ways and it still doesn’t truly mess up as long as you have more sugar or more liquid. easy easy.
      butter cookies are a weakness of mine. give me even just plain vanilla and i’ll snack on them all day. and now i’m dying for nutmeg maple butter cookies, thank you. 🙂
      a lobster?!?! really?!?! so jealous, how cute would that be. and um, i love the sword simply because i’d like to know what possessed her to think a sword cookie cutter would ever be needed. your mom is AWESOME. Tell her i have a tennis racket (with ball) and an ice cream cone. and an ax. which i suppose would mean anything i said about her having a sword would apply to me as well.

  • Reply Jen @ Juanita's Cocina March 16, 2012 at 10:15 am

    I was going to try to be all witty and stuff. Can’t do it. I just want to say, “Awwww! These are so CUTE!”

    I’ve been venturing into the realm of icings. Just today, I’m making a raspberry buttercream because I’m insane.

    I LOVE these. Plus they have lemon. And lemon is my best friend.

    • Reply shannon March 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      well, lemons must get around, because they’re my best friends too. especially now…LOVE lemon things in the spring and summer.
      and icings, huh? i wish i was better at those! raspberry buttercream sounds delightful (maybe on some lemon cake?)…tell me how it turns out for you! i should work on icings of the fluffy variety. i have royal down, and i do a decent ganache and glaze, but buttercream ones i’m hit or miss.

  • Reply What’s Been Happenin’ In The Cocina ~ 3/17/12 | Juanita's Cocina August 2, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    […] Lemon Buttermilk Cookies from Shannon at A Periodic Table.  Cuteness and yummy all in one cookie! […]

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