Tangy, buttery lemon cookies with crispy sides and a chewy center topped with a smooth, tart raspberry buttercream.
The inspiration for these cookies was a very popular sugar cookie with pale pink frosting (theirs is almond flavored) which, tbh I have not actually eaten. It was just the image of the cookie that hit and stuck with me and I needed to recreate it but in the most delicious way I could imagine. And truthfully, I’ve been looking for the right opportunity to share this raspberry buttercream for quite awhile.
To develop this, I went back to my marbled sugar cookies and more or less stuck with the recipe but changed the sugar ratios and added some baking soda so I’d get these babies to spread. Also, lemon zest! It’s really wonderful here and gives the sugar cookies a spark that goes especially well with the tart berry buttercream.
Butter: Softened, just so for about an hour at room temperature. You don’t want overly soft or melty butter in sugar cookies because it will cause them to over-spread. If you only have salted butter, omit the added salt.
Sugar and powdered sugar: We need a mix of both granulated and powdered sugar for this dough. Granulated makes up the bulk of the sweetener in this cookie but it also contributes to the ‘crispy’ edges and the chewy centers. Powdered sugar, with its fine texture and added cornstarch keeps the cookies tender.
Lemon: You can use as much lemon zest as you like, I used two large lemons and found it sufficient to get the lemony flavor in my cookies but you can use more or less.
Salt & vanilla: Both enhance the flavor of these sugar cookies. Use fine sea salt not table salt which is very ‘salty’ in flavor. For the vanilla, either pure extract, vanilla paste or if you’re feeling fancy a scraped vanilla bean will be perfect.
Flour: All purpose flour, I used KAF AP in the cookies pictured. If you need to make gluten-free use a 1-to-1 substitute.
Freeze dried raspberries: For the buttercream. This is a great way to add flavor (and color!) to a buttercream. Especially so with raspberries, they impart a ton of tart to an otherwise simply sweet buttercream. You’ll usually find these in the nut or snack cereal of a grocery store.
The dough for this is really simple and it all happens in a stand mixer (you can use a hand mixer as well). First, rub the zest into the sugar to get it to release some of its oils (it’ll pull out the lemon flavor more) and then add the vanilla, salt and sugars. Beat until nice and fluffy. Then add the egg, beat again.
Then the flour. Always be careful when mixing in the flour, no need to overdo it – just until the dough comes together. Then portion it into dough balls (about 3 tablespoons of dough per cookie, if you want large cookies but you can always go smaller). With mine I got 14 generously sized cookies. If you go smaller, you’ll get more.
Now the fun part: shaping the dough so we can slather on some buttercream!
Grab a clean, small measuring cup (I used 1/4 cup) and dip the bottom in flour and press to leave a large circled indentation. If the measuring cup starts sticking to the dough, dip it in flour again.
Make sure you put enough pressure all around (not just where your finger is pressing) so you get an even circle. It’s okay if there’s a little flour left on the cookie, it will bake off in the oven.
These cookies spread quite a bit (that baking soda!) so if you’ve made big ones only do 6 cookies per sheet pan. Once they are all done, you can frost them.
For portioning, I used a tablespoon cookie scoop to get even portions of buttercream on each cookie, and an offset spatula to smooth it down (with some swoops, if you’re feeling fancy).
While the buttercream hasn’t yet set, you can add some toppings. If you’ve still got freeze dried raspberries, you can crush some on as pictured. If you’re out/want something else, you can use sprinkles. But tbh, they are quite lovely as is.
I note this in the ingredients but I want to emphasize it again; your butter should never be overly soft or melty when making sugar cookies. It’s amazing how different a cookie can turn out when using melted or softened butter! Melty butter will lead to a much softer batter and will spread more in the oven. I take mine out of the fridge not more than an hour before I will use it. If I’m in a rush, I’ll pop it into the microwave for 10 seconds only. As long as you can press it with just a little indentation it’s good.
For a stronger lemon zest taste, rub the zest with the sugar a few hours or even the night before making the cookie dough. Store it in an airtight container; this will release more oils from the zest. We’re only using the zest here so if you want a really puckery, tart lemon taste you might want to add lemon oil to the dough. Fresh lemon juice won’t do here, it’ll add too much liquid into the cookie and make it soft (plus the acid can react with the baking soda).
If you aren’t into the raspberry you can use another freeze dried berry (strawberry or blueberry) and if you don’t want any berry situation at all, then a cream cheese buttercream or a vanilla would be great here too (dye it pink for cuteness though!).
A note about the raspberry buttercream: Because it’s made with freeze dried berries, the buttercream’s flavor will intensify as time passes and the powder gets absorbed into the butter. If you want to get a good read on how strong it will be, make it ahead of time with 1-2 teaspoons of powder, let it set (in an airtight container) and taste it right before frosting the cookies. Add more powder if you feel like it you want it stronger.
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