Brown Sugar Butter Cookie from The Improvisational Cook
photo: maria robledo

With the holidays soon upon us, I thought I’d post one of my very best cookie recipes. Or perhaps I should say cookie dough recipes: in addition to being able to fashion it into all sorts of cookie shapes and flavors, it also makes a great bake-ahead tart crust. Fleur de Sel Cookies, Earl Grey Tea Cookies, Coffee Vanilla Bean Cookies, Shortbread Pastry Lids and Shells for Tarts, and Brown Sugar Lime Curd Tart are just a few of the creations it easily morphs into. Once you know the basic thinking behind it, you can improvise endlessly with it.

When asked to bring a dessert to a holiday party, I invariably turn to this recipe for delectable, melt-in-your-mouth cookies fragrant with butter and the caramel flavors of light brown sugar. A few drops of orange flower water subtly intensifies the flavor of the butter, a trick I learned from my Greek grandmother.

Never one to write a simple, cut-in-stone recipe, I can’t seem to help writing out ideas for improvising upon a basic approach, with lots of examples. In fact, I wrote a whole book of recipes for improvising, which gives you the tools to do-your-own-thing right away, called The Improvisational Cook. As my holiday gift to you, here’s a PDF from The Improvisational Cook, for Brown Sugar Butter Cookies with Many Improvisations.

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15 replies on “best-ever holiday cookie recipe: ethereal brown sugar butter cookies with many variations

  1. Dear Sally,
    Thank you for the holiday PDF! Wishing you glad tidings of joy this holiday season.

  2. Thank you for the lovely message. I hope the cookies bring JOY and inspiration.

  3. And now to find a way to explain to my husband how orange flower water is something I NEED…

  4. It is definitely something to have on hand: an essential in baking for sure as it can be a fine subtle boost for any buttery dessert or ones with citrus flavors, It makes for a stunning pecan pie.

  5. Hi Sally, I have only dark demarara sugar – would using it make too much of an impact? I’m wondering if 1/2-1/2 w/white sugar would do it.


  6. I might try 2/3 white and 1/3 demarara…Let us know how they come out.

  7. I just baked a batch of the brown sugar butter cookies (plain) and a batch with the earl grey. So easy and fabulously delicious! I can’t wait to try more variations…
    Thank you so very much for sharing the recipe!

  8. LOVE THESE! Finally got around to making them last night. They are so delicate and flavorful and pretty in their simplicity. Thinking of doing a lavender version with lavender sugar and buds mixed in, and another version with salt and rosemary to serve with cheese. Thanks Sally!

  9. Great minds…I was just thinking of salt chopped with fresh herbes de provence (thyme, rosemary, savory maybe a pinch of lavender) sprinkled on top of the cookie. Let me know what improvisations you come up with.

  10. I’m hearing all of these rave reviews and I cannot get the original recipe to open. Help, please–I have other sugar sources but now believe I must have this one!

  11. I’ve got it–thanks so very much! I think I’ll invite friends over for tea and cookies.

  12. Having just discovered the wonderful world of artisinal bitters, I’m looking at flavors in a whole new light… Like:this recipe!

    Any hints on using cocktail bitters in cooking?

  13. You know, bitters are one thing I haven’t fooled around with beyond cocktails. And my favorite NONalchoholic cocktail: seltzer with a few dashes of bitters and a squeeze of lime. I’m always for experimenting, especially since there are so many kinds of bitters now. Let me know what you try. You can only learn from it….
    hmmmm…bitters and grapefruit….?

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