Makes about 20
200 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
280 g caster sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
400 g plain flour
a pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 egg white
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
310 g icing sugar, sifted
food colouring, optional
shaped biscuit cutters
4 baking trays, lined with greaseproof paper
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3.
2. Put the butter, sugar and vanilla extract in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and cream until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix well, scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
3. Add the flour, salt and cream of tartar and mix well, but don’t overmix. The dough should be light, soft and easy to handle.
4. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Cut out shapes with your choice of biscuit cutters.
5. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking trays and bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Check them regularly to make sure they are not burning. The cookies should be very light golden on the outer edges and paler in the centre.
6. When you are happy that they are cooked through, remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly on the trays before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
7. For the royal icing: Beat the egg white and lemon juice together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk). Gradually start adding the icing sugar, mixing well after each addition to ensure all sugar is incorporated. Whisk until you get stiff peaks. If the icing is too runny, add a little more sugar.
8. Stir in a couple of drops of food colouring, if using, and decorate the cookies.