As soon as it gets down below 50° outside, I’m trying to heat the apartment with cookies. It only takes one visit to see why: we live in an old Victorian apartment building full of classic San Francisco windows, which don’t fit quite right or have any second layers or screens. And I love them to bits – in Summer.

Since I’ve started overloading my friends, coworkers, and friends’ coworkers with cookies a few weeks ago, people have been asking for easy cookie recipes.  The simpler and more forgiving, the better.  Here’s the simplest cookie I know (and how to make it complicated).

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Basic Butter Cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a reusable silicon sheet.

Cream butter, sugar, and salt.  Mix in vanilla extract, then flour.

Optional embellishment: Mix in up to 1 cup of toasted nuts, chocolate chips, candy… whatever you like. No more than 1 cup though – more chunks can start to make the dough hard to shape in the next step.

When all ingredients are fully combined, shape the dough into your cookies.
Easy: Form 1 inch balls, then flatten them into 1/4 inch disks.
Optional: Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and use a cookie cutter.

These cookies don’t spread much at all – they stay exactly where you put them, which makes them perfect for fun shapes. It also means that they can be really really close together. Half an inch apart is plenty.

Optional embellishment: Add color and texture by sprinkling sugar, sprinkles, or spices over the unbaked cookies. My favorites are colored sanding sugar and a mix of vanilla sugar and cinnamon.

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Bake for 13 minutes, and let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before moving them.

Extra fancy optional embellishment: Make cookie sandwiches! Once the cookies and cookie sheet have cooled, flip half the cookies over.  Spread jam, caramel sauce, or melted chocolate over the bottom of each flipped over cookie, and press a clean cookie on top. This will probably use about half a cup of jam, caramel, or chocolate.

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Extra fancy optional embellishment: Add more chocolate! Melt a little bit of chocolate, and drizzle over each cookie.  Or, melt about a cup of chocolate then dip each cookie in about halfway. After each cookie has some chocolate, set the tray somewhere cool or breezy for chocolate to harden.  Next to a window, near a fan, or in the refrigerator are all good choices.

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