Crispy German butter cookies or Butterplätzchen, a classic Christmas cookie recipe, perfect for baking with children.
Germany has what feels like a million different cookie recipes. But these German butter cookies are probably some of the most popular, any child’s favorite sort, something kids enjoy cutting and decorating themselves.
The Butterplätzchen are the first ones I bake every season, we bake the first batch already at the end of November, and despite the many other sorts, we manage to bake them at least once more before Christmas. A huge batch, every time! And always with sprinkles, nothing else is allowed on top.
There are many cookies known as German butter cookies around the world, like Spritzgebäck, Vanillekipferl, or even Linzer. But today’s pastries are what we call butter cookies or Butterplätzchen in Germany, this simple recipe for nicely decorated biscuits made with only basic ingredients. All the other mentioned are just something else.
What do you need for Butterplätzchen?
- The most basic cookie ingredients: flour, butter, sugar, salt, egg.
- For the decoration: one egg yolk, milk, and colorful sprinkles.
- A basic ingredient in Germany, you can buy it anywhere and it is super cheap. It is used in most recipes for cookies or cakes.
- However, I know that vanilla sugar is not “a thing” all over the world.
- You can replace it with a small amount of vanilla extract or a few drops of vanilla aroma.
How to make vanilla sugar?
- Fill a jar with sugar, stick a vanilla bean inside and let the sugar infuse for a few weeks. You can refill the jar with sugar several times before the vanilla bean stops spreading its aroma.
- You can even use an empty vanilla pod to infuse the sugar. If you need the seeds for another recipe, just keep the empty pod and stick it in the sugar.
- This is actually my favorite way of making vanilla sugar.
- Cut the empty vanilla pod into several pieces. Place them in the food processor together with about 50 g/ 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Process until powdered.
- Mix with more granulated sugar and transfer to a jar.
- This way you will also have small black vanilla specks in the sugar, the aroma is more evenly distributed and more intense.
- And it is the quickest method, you will not have the wait for the vanilla aroma to infuse the sugar.
How to make German butter cookies?
- Place the flour, cold cubed butter, sugar, vanilla sugar, salt, and egg into the food processor. Process shortly to form the dough. (1)
- Turn the dough onto the working surface and press the dough into a disc. Don’t knead. (2)
- Wrap in plastic foil/cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer.
- Preheat the oven and line the baking trays with parchment paper.
- Lightly flour the working surface and the rolling pin.
- Divide the dough into two parts.
- Roll the dough 5 mm/ 0.2 inches.
- Cut the cookies with any cutters you like. As I always bake these biscuits with the kids, we use cutter forms that kids like: bells, angels, Christmas trees, and so on. We have at least 40 different cutters…
- Place on a tray (1) and brush with a mixture of egg yolk and milk. (2)
- Sprinkle with the sprinkles. Don’t overdo it or they might look weird in the end. They also make the pastries even sweeter. My kids always overdo it, so the cookies might not always look so professional once baked… But they love them! (3)
- Bake for 8-10 minutes until only lightly golden. (4)
- Let rest on the tray for 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
- Roll the remaining dough and repeat. Roll all the scraps again and make more cookies.
The dough is great for working with kids. Despite rolling the dough scraps several times, the biscuits will still be delicious!
Prepare the cookies to fill a tray and place them in the oven. Once they are in the oven, use the time to prepare the second batch. It is always best to use two or three trays.
Don’t place them on the hot tray though. Wait until the minute they are ready to go into the oven and only then place them on the tray. You will not have this problem when using several trays which are always cold.
You can also leave them plain (without sprinkles) or decorate them with chocolate sprinkles or other stuff.
Plain German butter cookies can also be iced after baking and cooling. To make the icing, mix about 150 g/ 1 ½ cups icing sugar with about 2 tablespoons lemon juice or water to form a thick paste that will not be running down the sides of the pastries.
You can also decorate them with royal icing, beautiful but time consuming.
Make in advance and store:
You can make the dough in advance and keep it refrigerated (wrapped in plastic foil) for up to 3 days. The dough can also be frozen for up to 3 months.
The Butterplätzchen keep well in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.
More German Christmas cookies:
German Butter Cookies Recipe
- 250 g all-purpose flour 8.8 oz/ 2 cups
- 125 g granulated sugar 4.4 oz/ 2/3 cup
- 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar Note 2
- pinch of salt
- 150 unsalted butter 5.3 oz/ 2/3 cup, cold
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon milk
- sprinkles Note 3
- Dough: Place the flour, cold cubed butter, sugar, vanilla sugar, a pinch of salt, and egg in the food processor. Process shortly to form the dough.
- Refrigerate: Turn the dough onto the working surface and press the dough into a disc. Don't knead. Wrap in plastic foil/cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line the baking trays with parchment paper.
- Roll the dough about 5 mm/ 0.2 inches on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Cut the cookies with any cutters you like. Place on trays (Note 4).
- Brush: Mix the egg yolk and the milk, brush the cookies with the mixture. Sprinkle with the sprinkles.
- Bake for 7-10 minutes until only lightly golden. Let rest on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
- Repeat: Roll the remaining dough and repeat. Roll all the scraps again and make more cookies.
- A digital kitchen scale will give you the most precise measure ensuring the best bake possible.
- Alternatively, use ½ teaspoon vanilla extract or a few drops of vanilla aroma. See blog post for instructions on how to make vanilla sugar.
- Alternatively, use chocolate sprinkles or leave the butter cookies plain. Plain cookies can be iced. To make the icing, mix 150 g/ 1 ½ cups icing sugar with about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or water to form a thick paste that will not run down the pastries’ sides. You can also decorate them with royal icing.
- If using only one tray repeatedly, don’t place the second/third batch of cookies on a hot tray. Cut them, decorate them with sprinkles and only put them on the hot/warm tray when they are ready to go into the oven. You will not have this problem using several trays, but most people don’t have more than 2 anyway. Use a plastic spatula to transfer the unbaked cookies to the tray.