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Every bite of these delicately crisp and lightly sweet Butter Cookies melts in your mouth. Made with high fat, European style butter, these cookies are exceptionally rich and made small, just 2 or 3 bites of bliss!
My inspiration for these cookies came from this recipe by Melissa Clark in the New York Times. I was initially puzzled by the title, Cultured Butter Cookies, and discovered in the entertaining comment thread that I wasn't alone. Among the hundreds of rave reviews, there were many people who were unfamiliar with what exactly 'cultured butter' was. One commenter quipped that they might need to take their butter to the opera or teach it French for it to qualify for the recipe.
In Melissa's defense, the title would have been equally odd as, High Fat Butter Cookies or European Style Butter Cookies. But high fat butter is indeed the key to these delicious cookies.
What is cultured butter?
Before butter was made in factories, it was often churned from the cream of several milkings that had naturally begun to ferment, thus developing bacterial cultures. So butter from this fermented cream was termed 'cultured butter.' The modern method of making cultured butter is to add bacterial cultures (as is done to make yogurt) to pasteurized cream. In both cases, the result is a full flavored, high fat butter.
High fat butter is often called European style butter because the standard fat ratio (to that of water and milk solids) is at least 82% and often 85%. This is higher than the average of around 81% in the US. The term is more about the amount of fat in the butter than about where it was made. Even when cultured or high fat butter is produced in the US, it's still typically referred to as European style.
But enough with the science lesson, let's talk about the cookies. In flavor they remind me of the Danish butter cookies I grew up eating from a giant blue tin filled with crinkly paper muffin wrappers stacked with 2 or 3 cookies. But these Butter Cookies taste fresher, more buttery: better.
The cookie dough is simple to make, but I recommend precision with the ingredient amounts, ideally using a food scale (I never bake without one!). You'll roll the dough into narrow logs, coat them in crunchy sugar (be sure to read recipe note #3), then slice and bake.
I have good news if you want to make this butter cookie recipe ahead of time: the dough freezes beautifully. There's no need to thaw before baking, just add a minute or so to the baking time. I like to pre-slice the dough logs before freezing. If you freeze them without slicing first, a thin bladed or serrated edge knife works best to slice when frozen.
To keep your dough logs round, wrap them in plastic wrap and place in a cardboard tube from an empty paper towel or wrapping paper roll. Cut the tube crosswise to your desired length, then all the way through lengthwise, making it easy to insert the dough log.
More Must-Try Cookie Recipes
If you're in a baking mood, don't forget these other favorite cookie recipes: World Peace Cookies, Italian Wedding Cookies, Gingersnap Cookies. And these, Soft Sugar Cookies, another go-to holiday cookie, topped with buttery sweet Sugar Cookie Icing.
How to Make Butter Cookies
Step 1: Sift dry ingredients together into a medium bowl. Set aside.
Step 2: Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add egg yolk and mix until combined. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined.
Step 3: Form dough into a ball and transfer to work surface. Divide in half and roll each half into a 1 ½-inch diameter log. Roll each log in demerara sugar. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
Step 4: Slice dough logs into ¼-inch thick rounds. Arrange one-inch apart on parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 325˚F for 18 minutes. Let cool slightly then transfer to wire rack. Once cool, store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour 250g
- ½ teaspoon baking powder 3g
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup salted European style butter ~85% fat butter, see recipe note #1
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar 130g
- 1 large egg yolk
- ¼ cup demerara sugar 55g, see recipe note #2
- Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg yolk and mix until combined. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined.
- Shape dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured work surface (see recipe note #3). Divide dough in half with bench scraper or sharp knife. Roll each half into a 1 ½-inch diameter log. Brush off excess flour.
- Sprinkle demerara sugar onto a sheet of parchment paper. Roll each dough log in sugar until well coated. Wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or more.
- When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat oven to 325˚F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Slice each dough log into ¼-inch thick rounds and place on prepared baking sheets at least 1-inch apart. Bake 18 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom and edges. Remove from oven and let cool slightly (about 5 minutes) before transferring to cooling rack.
- Store cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.
- European Style Butter or cultured butter is a higher fat butter vs. many in the US, look for 85% butterfat. There are many foreign and domestic brands that make this style of butter. If you are using unsalted butter, increase the sea salt to ½ teaspoon.
- Demerara sugar is a coarse sugar that is less refined than standard brown sugar.
- A lightly floured work surface keeps the dough from sticking as you roll it into a log, but makes it difficult for the demerara sugar to adhere. Brushing off the flour before you roll in sugar is helpful. For maximum sugar adhesion, don't flour your work surface and work quickly to roll the logs to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface.
- The dough logs freeze beautifully! You can slice and bake the logs straight from the freezer, no thawing required. Just add a minute or so to the baking time.
- Note that the baking time is per batch of cookies.
Deborah Padgett says
Marissa - I'm a mother of five and a grandmother of seven. As the oldest daughter of seven children myself I began baking cookies (pies, cakes etc) from an early age; with 5 brothers I automatically doubled a cookie recipe so I'd actually be able to bake some. After I married I met my husband's Aunt Margaret who was a revered cook in a very southern family. At Christmas every year she would send one of the big popcorn tins full to the brim with the most delicate, delectable butter cookies ever made!! They were all perfectly shaped a baked to perfection. The kids are all grown now with babes of their own but Aunt Margaret, though still alive hasn't been able to bake for many years now. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to get her recipe before her memory of baking these cookies was lost. I've been on the hunt for a butter cookie recipe that could stand up to Aunt Margaret's recipe and I can honestly say that these cookies Absolutely do just that!!! The first time I made them and my husband ate one he literally had tears in his eyes because with that single bite he was transported back to the days he had shared Butter Cookies with his Aunt!! Thank YOU SOOO MUCH for sharing such a Wonderful recipe that will now be passed down to another generation of bakers!!!
Wow. Thank you Deborah, this comment means the world to me. Much love to you and your family.❤️
I love this recipe but it’s dangerous as I eat all the cookies. This year I bought double the butter so I could make an extra batch 🙂 Question, I’d love to make this for my son but he is gluten-free. Any advice on possibly trying this with GF flour? Thank you!
Marissa Stevens says
Hi Marti! I'm so glad this recipe is such a hit for you. I relate to trying to stay out of them...haha. I haven't tested a gluten free version of these, but my guess is that a 1:1 gluten free flour for baking would work just fine. Please let me know how it goes if you try it!
Reena H. says
Oh my gosh!!! I made these last night for a cookie exchange, so simple and so good. Everyone can’t stop raving about it. I didn’t have demerara sugar on hand so I just used granulated sugar and it came out so scrumptious. Not too sweet, not too salty, the perfect crunch yet melts in your mouth. Will definitely be making this again!
That's wonderful, Reena! Thank you so much for letting me know!
The dough barely made it into the oven. I did a taste test before putting the rolls into the fridge, and it took everything in me to not eat the raw dough. The dough crumbled when I cut it so I had to roll the crumbs into a new dough ball/patty, but they still came out fantastic!
I'm the same way, Marina! So tough to not nibble on the dough. 😉 So glad you enjoyed these!!
Due to our current orders to remain home, I was curious if you’ve tried to make these with American style butter, or if there was another means to bump up the fat % to achieve the correct results? Maybe a bit of coconut oil? I’m excited to try these, but not thrilled about an unnecessary trip to the grocery store..🤪
Marissa Stevens says
I completely relate, Kathleen! To be honest, I wouldn't make a trip to the store. I think these will still be excellent with American style butter. You have me wanting to test it myself, but I only have high fat butter in the refrigerator right now. If you give it a try, will you let me know how it goes?