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danish butter cookie cookie tin

All Photos: Virginia Willis

A re-purposed tin of Danish Butter Cookies.


Why Virginia Willis loves classic, sugar-flecked Danish Butter Cookies

Every year of my childhood, without fail, one or more of those iconic tins of butter cookies would appear at my grandparents’ home during the holidays. Most often an inexpensive hostess present from one of the neighbors and filled with crisp buttery thin cookies, they have been one of the few store-bought sweet treats I have loved in my life.

Those very tins, now a bit worn for wear, still float about our lives, having been re-purposed as button tins, thread containers, and receptacles for various nails and screws in the handyman department of the garage.

The cookies were most often Danish butter, a traditional sweet that is sometimes piped into a wreath or even a pretzel. Very similar to German spritz cookies, they're made from a simple combination of butter, flour, and sugar and eggs. Indeed, the word spritz originated from the German word, “spritzen,” which translates “to squirt” in English. They are made by dough being "pushed" or "squirted" from a cookie press. The egg in both recipes makes the dough more pliable and therefore easier to press into a variety of shapes and designs.

Homemade baking was and still is a very important part of our family holiday. Cookies, candy and cheese straws are for gift-giving, church bazaars and to welcome guests. Mama still makes dozens upon dozens of wedding cookies. Thankfully, we’ve ceased making my grandfather’s fruitcake cookies, boozy blobs studded with candied fruit. (I’m not sure if they were meant to be some sort of adverse cookie therapy, but much like the cake for after which they were named I steered clear of those as a child.) Later, after I became a professional chef, we branched out and incorporated chocolate snowcaps, spicy golden gingersnaps and these cookie press cookies into our holiday cookie repertoire.

I hope you and your family will give them a try. If you don’t have a cookie press you can still make a delicious buttery cookie. Simply scoop the dough into a small ball and flatten with the bottom of a glass. Or, with a bit of elbow grease, you can also use a pastry bag with a star tip. Best wishes for a joyful holiday!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
– Virginia Willis

Cookie Press Cookies
Note: You can bake the cookies on an unlined baking sheet or on a baking sheet lined with a silicone making mat. Cookies baked on an unlined sheet will be slightly crisper and darker than cookies baked on a mat. Cookies baked on a mat will also take a few minutes longer to bake.

Makes: 2 to 3 dozen cookies
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Total time: About 1 hour

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted 
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 large egg white, beaten with 2 teaspoons of water (optional)
Sanding sugars, dragées, or sprinkles (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg yolks and vanilla, followed by the flour and salt. Mix thoroughly to combine. The dough should be very soft and pliable.

Fill a cookie press with the dough, and turn out cookies 1 to 2 inches apart onto either an unlined baking sheet or a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat (see note).

If pressing the dough is too difficult, it is not soft enough. If that is the case, use your hands to work the dough, a little at a time, until it is very soft and pliable. Sprinkle the cookies with colored sanding sugars or decorate with dragées or sprinkles.

Bake until the cookies are lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes. To ensure even baking, rotate the sheet halfway through the baking process. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Author image

Georgia-born, French-trained chef and food writer Virginia Willis has made cookies with Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson, catered a bowling party for Jane Fonda, foraged for herbs in the Alps, and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Her legion of fans loves her knack for giving classic French cooking a down-home feel and re-imagining Southern recipes en Français. Virginia's newest cookbook, "Secrets of the Southern Table," is currently available for here. Her previous book, "Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome," received a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence. Learn more about Virginia and follow her culinary exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.