Procrastination and baking do not generally compliment each other, but with this recipe, forgetting your cookie dough for a few weeks before you get around to baking it actually improves the final product. The extra time in the freezer allows the lemon flavor to really infuse and develop, producing buttery, fragrant cookies. The crisp coating of lemon sugar on the outside adds just a hint of crunch, and lemony tart icing drizzled on top completes the citrus trifecta.
Of course, these are wonderful even if you only freeze the dough the minimum one hour. Though these resemble shortbread in appearance, the addition of egg yolk makes for a more tender, less crumbly cookie than traditional shortbread. The dough comes together in a matter of minutes, just the time it takes to zest and juice a few lemons and blitz the ingredients in the food processor. I often double the recipe and keep a log in the freezer, ready to cut and bake for guests.
Not in the mood for lemon? See the Recipe Notes for several more flavor variations, including Orange-Ginger and Mocha-Vanilla. All of them also freeze well after baking — just wait to glaze until right before serving. It’s not often that procrastination is so beautifully rewarded. :)
Lemon Sugar Icebox Cookies
makes 18 cookies
1 c. all-purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur)
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 large egg yolk
1/4 c. granulated sugar (for rolling)
1/2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1-2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
In food processor, pulse flour, powdered sugar, salt, and one tablespoon lemon zest until thoroughly combined. Add butter and pulse again until it forms sandy crumbs. Add egg yolks and lemon juice and process until mixture forms a ball of dough. Place dough on a sheet of parchment paper and shape into a log 1-1/2″ in diameter. (Don’t stress if it’s not perfectly round — you’re not looking for something that appears factory-produced, just a uniform shape that will cook evenly.) Fold over ends of parchment and freeze dough for one hour or up to one month. If freezing more than a few hours, place parchment-wrapped dough in a layer of plastic wrap or a zip-seal plastic bag to protect it against freezer burn.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F. Blitz granulated sugar and remaining two teaspoons lemon zest in food processor until well-combined. Roll frozen dough log in lemon sugar, pressing to achieve a solid, sugary coat. Using a sharp, non-serrated knife, slice into eighteen 1/4″-thick rounds. Place 1″ apart on parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until edges of cookies have just a hint of golden brown and centers are set. Be careful not to over-bake.
Allow to cool on sheet for a few minutes, then remove to rack to cool completely. While cookies cool, mix icing ingredients. Drizzle glaze from the back of a spoon on tops of cooled cookies and serve. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy! :)
Recipe Notes + Tips:
There are endless variations to this recipe using the same quick, basic dough. Try substituting fresh orange zest and juice for the lemon in the cookies and icing, plus add a 1/2 tsp. of ground ginger to the dough. Roll in finely chopped candied ginger before baking, and you have citrusy, spicy Orange-Ginger Icebox Cookies.
For a chocolate treat, trade out a tablespoon or two of the flour for the same amount of unsweetened cocoa and substitute a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or real vanilla extract for the lemon juice in the cookie dough. Roll in chocolate jimmmies before baking and glaze with melted chocolate. For Mocha-Vanilla Icebox Cookies, follow the same directions for the chocolate cookies, but add a teaspoon of espresso powder to the dough and substitute brewed coffee for the lemon juice in the glaze.
The list of possible flavors is limited only by your imagination: Caribbean Coconut-Lime, toasty Butter Pecan, Mexican Hot Chocolate with a kick of cayenne and cinnamon…. There’s really no end to the combinations, just keep the proportions of dry and liquid ingredients the same as the original recipe. I’d love to hear what you come up with! :)