Italian Butter Cookies

Italian Butter Cookies

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Chill/Cool/Set: 85 mins
Total: 2 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 20 servings
Yield: 40 cookies
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
215 Calories
13g Fat
23g Carbs
3g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 20
Amount per serving
Calories 215
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 13g 16%
Saturated Fat 8g 38%
Cholesterol 54mg 18%
Sodium 61mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 23g 8%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 11g
Protein 3g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 35mg 3%
Iron 1mg 5%
Potassium 58mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Some may know these classic butter cookies from their local Italian-American bakery, while others recognize the swirly shapes from cookie tins set around the holiday table. I fell in love with Italian butter cookies during my time as a pastry cook at Leonelli Bakery in New York City. Not only were they one of my favorite treats to devour during a family meal, but I found the production process entirely relaxing.

Though many believe these cookie classics hail from Italy, they are actually an iteration of the spritz cookie invented by Scandinavian immigrants. The signs of a great butter cookie are a tender crumb, softness without the chew, and rich butter flavor. Some recipes include almond paste, but we looked to keep this recipe simple, allowing you to get more creative in terms of fillings and decorations.

The key to seamless production is ensuring your ingredients are at room temperature and properly creaming the butter and sugar to the fluffiest consistency. Aeration makes for smooth piping as well as a delicate result. Additionally, it's vital that the yolks come from large eggs otherwise there will not be enough moisture in the dough for piping (see tips section for more on this). Once the dough comes together, we load a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe various shapes from arcs to circles to thumbprint-like cookies.

Whether dipped in chocolate or sandwiched with jam, good butter cookies are light and not too sweet, with the majority of sugar coming from decorations. Even if you aren't a fan of jammy cookies, we strongly urge you to try a couple of sandwiches with your favorite spread. The resulting bite is almost cake-like, with the jam melting into the grooves of the cookies.

"Buttery, sweet, and deliciously delicate, these versatile cookies can form the base of a varied cookie tray. I found that it worked best to fill the pastry bag no more than half full when piping, and the Ateco French star tip (#869) created distinct ridges on the cookies that didn't melt away during baking." —Danielle Centoni

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A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • Jam, ganache, or Nutella for cookie sandwiches, optional

  • 6 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

  • Nonpareil sprinkles, optional

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Italian Butter Cookies ingredients in bowls

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

    Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  3. Beat the butter and sugars together in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, or with an electric hand mixer, on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

    butter and sugar in a bowl

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  4. Beat in the vanilla, then add the egg yolks until just incorporated.

    vanilla, egg yolks, butter and sugar in a bowl

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  5. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter in three increments until incorporated. Avoid over-mixing by stopping just when there are only a couple traces of dry ingredients left, then folding in the remnants using a rubber spatula until combined. The dough should not form a ball but be sticky and the consistency of a very thick buttercream.

    cookie dough in a large white bowl with a spatula

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  6. Fit a large piping bag with a large star-shaped tip. Pipe desired shapes of cookies onto 3 parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving 1 to 2 inches between each cookie.

    cookies piped on to a lined baking sheet

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  7. Freeze the piped cookies for at least 10 minutes (this will help the cookies keep their shape as they bake). If you do not have room in your freezer, you can refrigerate the cookies until set, about 1 hour.

    Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F.

    cookies on a baking sheet

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  8. Bake the cookies until the cookies are lightly golden around the edges, about 13 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet.

    baked cooking on a baking sheet

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  9. At this point you can sandwich cookies with about 1/2 teaspoon jam or ganache, if desired. You don't want the filling to ooze out the sides; rather, they should barely peek between the layers and hold the two cookies together.

    Set a medium heatproof bowl over a small pot with about 2 inches of simmering water. Place half of the chocolate in the bowl and melt, stirring occasionally. Once melted, add the remaining chocolate and remove the bowl from the heat. Let sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.

    Jam in a bowl, melted chocolate in a bowl, sprinkles in a bowl, and cookies

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  10. Dip the cookies about halfway into the chocolate, letting the excess drip off. Place on baking sheets lined with wax or parchment paper. You can dip as many or as few as you like. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired.

    cookie dipped into chocolate and sprinkles and placed on a baking sheet

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  11. Allow the butter cookies to air dry until the chocolate is completely set, about 1 hour. Enjoy!

    Italian Butter Cookies on a baking sheet

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Recipe Tips

Creaming the butter and sugar is vital to this recipe:

  • Not only does it make it easier to pipe your cookies, but the aeration creates pockets that the leavening (like baking powder, here) utilizes to expand the cookie.
  • More aeration means more volume, which leads to more cookies (probably about 5 to 10 to be precise).
  • Without creaming, the butter and sugar can create large, compact lumps which will melt faster, therefore spreading the cookie when baking.
  • Because butter is the star here, choose a quality brand with lower moisture.


Egg Yolks

  • Make sure your yolks come from large eggs as this is the necessary size/weight of fat and moisture for the dough.
  • If you are working in a cooler environment, then you can use 1 whole large egg + 1 large egg yolk to add just enough moisture to loosen the dough, but allow it to hold shape during baking.
  • If you used 2 yolks and your dough feels too stiff to pipe, then add 1 tablespoon milk, at a time until the dough is the right consistency. I would not add more than 2 tablespoons.


Piping tips:

  • Keep a small cup of water by you when piping. To help release the dough from the piping tip, dip your finger in the water and gently release the cookie dough from the piping tip—it won't stick.
  • You'll have some cookies that didn't release from the tip as nicely as others, but that's okay. You can dip your finger in the water and go back to gently even out the ends. Otherwise, you can cover up any oopsies with the chocolate.
  • We found the star piping tips (open or closed) work best for these cookies, but feel free to experiment with other tips.
  • Avoid overfilling the piping bag, as it can make it more difficult to pipe out the dough. It's better to fill the bag with less dough and refill as needed.

Recipe Variations

  • The sky's the limit when it comes to the shapes and sizes of your cookie. Have fun and experiment with designs you like, whether circles, lines, rainbow arcs, squiggles, or more.
  • You can use dye half of your dough and fill your piping bag with both colors to create a tie-dye effect on the cookies.


Although this cookie is basic by design to highlight the richness of the butter, you can incorporate subtle flavor additions like:

  • Citrus zest
  • Almond extract
  • Cocoa nibs
  • Sweet or savory jams
  • Nutella or nut butter fillings

How to Store and Freeze

  • Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
  • Plain or dipped cookies can be stored at room temperature, but keep any cookies with jam or ganache in the refrigerator.


Freezing and Make-Ahead Tips:

  • You can make the cookie dough ahead and keep in the freezer or fridge, but allow the dough to come to room temperature before piping; otherwise it will be too difficult to handle.
  • Freeze the cookies plain or dipped in chocolate, then allow to come to room temperature (uncovered to prevent condensation on the cookies) and sandwich with any filling before serving. You can freeze ahead for up to 3 months.

What is the difference between butter cookies and shortbread cookies?

Shortbread cookies have a higher ratio of butter to flour, usually without a leavener. They are incredibly delicate and crumbly, so best served in-person versus shipped.


In contrast, while butter cookies have a high proportion of butter as well, the amount of flour and sugar is increased so that the cookies can hold their shape. The end result is a sturdier cookie that is still soft with a light crumb.

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