Christmas Cut-Out Cookies Made With Real Butter

Christmas Cut-Out Cookies Made With Real Butter

At the Alder home, for as long as I can recall, we have made cut-out cookies on Christmas Eve. This year as part of our #12DaysOfSourdoughCookies, which began on #NationalCookieDay, Day 12 featured Sourdough Christmas Cut-out Cookies made with real butter. Tonight we are testing these in our kitchen, but first a story from my wife, Sue Alder, about her experience with butter and cut-out cookies sixty years ago: 

Christmas Cut-out Cookies Made With Real Butter
by Sue Alder

I took a bite of the first Christmas cut-out cookie I had iced. Involuntarily a flood of memories filled my very being. I pause to revel in them. “So that’s what made them so different from my mothers,” I thought, “real butter!”

The memories flowed back to my childhood. There were seven, then eight, children in our family. We lived in a large, old, old two-story, turn of the century, brick house.

Next-door lived an older, grandparently couple. Their house always struck me with wonder. But the particular memories that filled me as I savored this cookie, were Christmas time ones.

Each Christmas, after present-opening had ended and wrappings were being burned in the fireplace, the phone would ring. “The Pauly’s just called,” my mother would say as she hung up the phone. “They want you children to come see the tree.”

Usually, just the youngest four of us would go. We eagerly bundled up because we knew “seeing the tree” meant much, much more.

Out the back door we went. Down the steps, across the lawn, and through the friendly archway of trees and shrubs that joined our backyards together. Our lives, too, it seemed.

Mrs. Pauly always met us at the back door. As we entered the doorway, marvelous smells greeted our noses. Mrs. Pauly’s clean, perfumey smell, Mr. Pauly’s cigar smoke (to this day, when I smell his brand of cigar, I almost expect to turn and see him standing there), dinner in the oven, and the smell of cooling cut-out cookies.

We were invited into the living room. Mr. Pauly would be sitting in “his” chair, cane at this side, his leg propped, habitually rubbing his knee. Even with one droopy, bad eye, he always looked to me to be quite the dignified, old gentleman.

Both Pauly’s were white-haired. I don’t remember what he used to do, but she was a retired school teacher. The time they had now, they spent caring for their beautiful yard, garden, and each other. They looked forward to each visit from their grandchildren. So did we.

In the corner of the living room stood the tree. Perfectly shaped, and trimmed with ornaments that each held their own story.

There was one decoration standing on a table that was my personal favorite. It was made of golden metal. On top was the flat silhouette of an angel blowing a horn. Below that was something that looked like a propellor facing downward. Below that three more bugling angels, suspended, with chimes dangling from their feet. Below that two bells and on the base four candles. When the candles were lit, the heat from the flame moved the propeller which in turn moved the angels, whose chimes hit the bells, producing a most enchanting, tinkling sound. I could have sat and dreamed in front of it for hours.

Once seated on the couch, we were shown the latest pictures of their grandchildren. Some old ones too. The presents received from children and grandchildren were displayed and we discussed them.

Then came the part for which we had waited, the real reason we were there. We were served freshly baked, Christmas cut-out cookies. They were all sizes and shapes and had different colors and kinds of sprinkles on them. They simply melted in our mouthes.

They somehow tasted different than my mother’s cut-out cookies. I loved both Mrs. Pauly’s and my mother’s cookies, but they were just different. I used to wonder if it was the smell of the cigar smoke, or the sprinkles (my mother iced hers), or the atmosphere. It wasn’t until this very day, I realized they were made with real butter.

In a house full of eight children, the only time we had real butter was on special occasions. Usually when dad would take us to a restaurant for dinner. Not that we missed it. We just didn’t know what the flavor was.

Not until now. Now as I tested my own Christmas cut-out cookies, made for the first time with real butter, I realized what that taste was.

After we ate those cookies the smells of Pauly’s Christmas dinner got stronger and our new toys began calling us. So, we would politely excuse ourselves, re-bundle and with a “Merry Christmas!” and scurry home.

Even though thoughts turned to other things, the warm, tingly, homemade cookie feeling stayed with us for a long, long time. In fact, I didn’t realize until now that it was still with me.

As I take another bite from my homemade Christmas cut-out cookie made with real butter, I realize, it wasn’t just the butter. It was all those things I mentioned before:  the atmosphere, the cigar smoke, the tingly Christmas feeling, and much, much more. The attention and the love. The love from two grandparently figures that still fill a special spot in my heart.

I slowly roll out another ball of dough with a resolve. All my Christmas cut-out cookies will have, with the exception of the cigar smoke, those same things I remember so well, the love, the atmosphere, and a tingly Christmas feeling… and they will have real butter.


Based on my wife’s recipe and adjusted for sourdough from

  • 2 cups/455 g  butter, soft at room temperature
  • 2 cups/250 g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp/7.5 g almond extract
  • 1 tsp/5 g lemon extract
  • 2 tsp/10 g vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup/113 g of sourdough starter
  • 6 cups/750  of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp/4 g baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp/3 g salt


  • 3 cups/825 g powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup/113 g butter
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp/22.5 g vanilla extract
  • 2–4 tablespoons milk
  • Optional food coloring of your choice
  • Optional colored sugar, edible glitter, nonpareils or frosting of your choice


  1. In a stand mixer, cream sugar and butter together.
  2. Add eggs, vanilla, lemon and almond extracts to the creamed sugar/butter
  3. Place all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and whisk together or place in a sifter
  4.  Mix dry and wet ingredients until well combined.
  5. Cover and leave in a warm spot for 5-8 hours to allow the sourdough to ferment and transform the dough.
  6. Following the fermentation period, chill the dough a minimum of 2 hours or overnight.
  7. Once chilled, preheat oven to 350° F/ 177°C.
  8. Flour a work surface well and take just a quarter of the dough from the bowl.  (Keep the remaining dough in the fridge while you work with the smaller portion.)
  9. Roll dough out to about 1/4 inch/1/2 cm thick.
  10. Cut out with holiday cookie cutters or a drinking glass
  11. “Place on a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet,” says Ashley Marie, ” and bake for approximately 8-10 minutes or until very lightly browned.  You don’t want these cookies dark. You just want them to be set in the middle and just starting to get golden on the edges.”
  12. Repeat steps for the remaining dough.
  13. Allow cookies to cool and then proceed with icing and decorating.


  1. In a small bowl, combine butter, sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk.  
  2. Add each tablespoon of milk slowly and fully combine each time until you get a spreading consistency.
  3. If desired, tint with food coloring.
  4. Frost and decorate cookies as desired.
  5. Let cookies dry for a few hours.
  6. If you keep the icing a medium to thick consistency the cookies will crust up enough to stack but be soft enough to sink your teeth into. 
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