Almond Cookies with Royal Icing

I came across this recipe in high school, and I've made it dozens of times since then. It's a basic sugar cookie recipe, but with ground almonds and lemon zest mixed into the dough. The almonds give the cookies a nice extra crunch and toasty flavor, while the lemon zest adds tartness and complexity.

The cookie dough is the perfect consistency for rolling and cutting out shapes. Over the years, I've acquired a rather diverse set of cookie cutters, and this is my favorite dough to use them with.

While these delicious cookies can certainly be enjoyed fresh from the oven, you should wait, because they are the ideal canvas for decorating.

Ducks!
Portraits of my nieces, Nellie and Cora.

I like to decorate these almond cookies with royal icing and various sprinkles. Royal icing is great for cookie decorating because it's easy to whip up, easy to color, and easy to flavor. It also hardens all the way through, so packaging and storing the finished cookies is hassle-free.

Royal icing sounds fancy and complicated to make, but it's actually quite easy. While there's a few different methods out there, my favorite recipe for royal icing is also the simplest:

Simply whip 2 fresh egg whites into a foam, and then slowly whisk in sifted powdered sugar until you reach your desired consistency. The amount of powdered sugar will vary depending on how thick you want your icing to be. Thicker icing will require more powdered sugar (3-4 cups), and is best used for piping out distinct lines and shapes. Thinner icing will need less powdered sugar (2-3 cups), and is great for glazing and flooding the surface of the cookie. You can also easily add flavored extracts while incorporating the powdered sugar. Just remember that adding any extra liquid will change the consistency of the icing, and may need to be corrected with additional powdered sugar.

Once the icing is prepared, you can use paste food coloring to create as many colors as you wish. I prefer paste food coloring over liquid drops because the paste colors are much more intense and therefore require less coloring to get the color you want. They also won't thin out the icing. After I've mixed each color, I spoon the icing into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip.

To enhance the flavors of these almond cookies, I added ½ teaspoon of almond extract and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to the royal icing while whisking in the powdered sugar.

Thin royal icing can be swirled with a toothpick to create a tie-dye effect.
Thick royal icing is great for defined lines and adding texture.

I've made these cookies so many times, they've developed a fan club. They can be made for virtually any holiday. With a big box of food coloring pastes and a wide arsenal of cookie cutters, the possibilities are endless. Plus, they're delicious, and delicious cookies are always welcome in any situation.

This recipe will make anywhere from 4 to 8 dozen cookies, depending on how big your cookie cutters are. You may want to enlist the help of friends or kids to decorate them all. And, if you choose to host an adult cookie decorating party, my amaretto sour martini complements the flavors in these cookies perfectly. Champagne or Prosecco would be lovely with these as well. :)

Ingredients

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Grease 2 cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.
  3. In a standing mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add egg, lemon zest, and almond extract, and beat well to combine.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together almonds and flour.
  6. Slowly add flour and almonds to butter mixture, mixing at low speed, until flour is incorporated.
  7. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to ⅛-¼" thickness. Cut out cookies using cook cutters, and place on prepared cookie sheets.
    All the holidays at once!
  8. Bake 7-9 minutes, until edges are golden brown.
  9. Allow to cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
  10. Decorate with royal icing and sprinkles of choice.
    SO MANY COOKIES
Stars and stripes forever!