Maltese Lemon Christmas Cookies

November 21, 2015
4 Ratings
Photo by Meike Peters | eat in my kitchen
  • Makes about 70 cookies
Author Notes

This is one of my Christmas favorites: Maltese lemon cookies. They are thin, crunchy, a little flaky, and quite buttery, with a strong aroma of lemon and vanilla. It's a relatively easy recipe, but the dough has to be frozen for around half an hour as it's packed with butter, which makes it quite soft. It creates wonderfully rich cookies; while they're not as easy to cut out as a more dry and floury pastry, the result is delicious.
Meike Peters | eat in my kitchen

What You'll Need
  • 1 1/4 cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla pod, split and scraped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 egg
  • Sprinkles, for the topping
  1. Combine the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg and continue mixing until well combined. Add the dry flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until combined.
  3. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, form a thick disc, wrap tightly, and freeze for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the dough is hard.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C) (preferably convection setting). Line 2 (or more) baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Once the dough is hard, brake 1/4 off the dough and keep the remaining dough wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge. Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on the kitchen counter and cover generously with flour, lay the dough on top, dust with flour and cover with a second layer of plastic wrap. Roll the dough out thinly with a rolling pin. The dough is quite buttery; if it sticks to the cling film, dust it with more flour.
  6. Dip cookie cutters in flour and cut out cookies.
  7. Carefully transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheets, laying them with a bit of space in between, and decorate them generously with sprinkles. Continue with the remaining dough.
  8. Bake for 6-7 minutes (slightly longer if using conventional) or until golden. Let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack.
  9. Once the cookies are completely cool, store them in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Gwen
  • Smaug
  • Cyndi Kiser
    Cyndi Kiser
  • Jackie Nutter Dockery
    Jackie Nutter Dockery
  • janecf

24 Reviews

Denise S. December 17, 2017
Gwen, my typos were the result of typing on an ipad. And probably being in a hurry. I should’ve slowed down and proofraed, but i didn’t. I noticed the homophone mistake in the recipe, same as you, but i figured it wasn’t a mistake essential to the success of the recipe. Happy baking to you!

Gwen December 16, 2017
Surely there is a proof reader. #5 'brake' is someone pulling out all the stops? Should read 'break'. Lordy, lordy.
Denise S. December 11, 2017
I made these today and used a slightly different method for rolling them out. First i divided the dough into four mounds. Then I put flour on my parchment, then put down the dought, and put another sheet of floured parchment on top to rollit. After i rolled the dough, i put each ready-to-cut piece in the freezer. They were then ready for the cookie cutters when I was ready to bake them. I gathered together the scraps as i wnr, re-chilling the dough before re-rolling and cutting the cookies. I then refrigerated the cut-out shapes. I’m sorry to say, after all the work, i didnt find these particulalrly spectacular. They are a fairly plain, slightly lemon-y butter cookie, even with a god tablespoon of peel and added lemin extract. And how in the world anyone gets 70 cookies out of that dough, i’d like to know. I rolled mine thinner than 1/4 inch and got about 40 cookies out of the recipe. To each her own , but i wonkt make these again.
Nyasha January 26, 2017
I made these for my annual christmas cookie gift box and they were a hit. Almost stole the show from my venetians - which are my speciality! I found these too sticky for cookie cutters (even with frequent freezing), so I ended up rolling out the dough and slicing it into small diamond shapes. I...may have eaten a solid 5th of the dough before it made it to the oven . So delicious - at every stage. Coating in gold and silver sprinkles make a gorgeous cookie. Brava!
Meike P. January 26, 2017
Hi Nyasha! Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed them so much. I love these cookies, and the raw dough! Cutting them is a bit fiddly, but it sounds like you found a good solution. All the best!
Heidi M. December 11, 2016
I can't believe there are no comments about how delicious these are. They were the biggest hit for me last year and have become almost my fav Christmas cookie. I have made them GF as well and everyone raves about them. Bravo.
Meike P. December 12, 2016
Thank you! Merry Christmas!
Smaug December 21, 2015
Makes a nice, delicate cookie- I'd actually prefer a bit more lemon (but then I use a cup of juice for a lemon meringue pie); you can't really measure zest, but I used 1 largish lemon- looked like about 2 tsp. I subbed 1 tsp of vanilla paste for the bean. I found that they rolled much more easily on a pastry cloth than with the plastic (or wax paper)- any way you do it, it takes quite a bit of flour; it might be best to use a bit more in the dough (they also spread a bit). I also tried a few as drop cookies (blob, flattened ball, unflattened ball)- they all came out acceptable; the flattened ball was the best (use wet hands to form them). I rolled them to 5/32"; it made 26 2 1/4" cookies. I baked them in a standard oven, 375 degrees for 9 minutes.
Meike P. December 22, 2015
Thank you! I never tried rolling them on a pastry cloth, I'll do that next time. Two layers of floured plastic wrap works really well for me here, I prefer it to wax paper. I tried adding more flour to the dough but the texture wasn't as nice so I stick to my Maltese mama's traditional recipe. Merry Christmas!!
Cyndi K. December 21, 2015
Salted butter?
Meike P. December 21, 2015
Hi! No, I use unsalted butter. Merry Christmas!
Cyndi K. December 21, 2015
Thanks! That's what I thought but I didn't want to mess them up!
Meike P. December 21, 2015
Enjoy the recipe!
Jackie N. December 15, 2015
Hi, I'm completely out of parchment paper. Will this be a problem for this recipe?
Meike P. December 15, 2015
Hi! You could grease the baking sheet but I would use aluminium foil instead (shiny side up, also lightly greased), the cookies might be done a bit quicker. Parchment paper is still ideal as the cookies are thin and crisp. Enjoy!
Smaug December 21, 2015
You should be able to cook them right on the (ungreased) baking sheet- parchment is used for cookies in bakeries mostly so that trays of cookies can be cycled rapidly and so the heat can be removed instantly when they're done. If you make cookies frequently, silpats work very well and last more or less forever, but the initial investment is a bit high. By the way, wax paper works much better than plastic wrap for rolling out doughs.
janecf December 12, 2015
Do you think this recipe would work if I chilled the dough in "logs" and sliced rounds off to bake (instead of rolling out and cutting)? Thanks!
Meike P. December 12, 2015
Hi! I'm quite sure that it will work. And it will definitely make it easier and quicker as the dough is quite soft!
Jamesl D. December 11, 2015
Now i am not dumb but i have ask this where an what are vanilla pods they sound like they make baking a breeze. Thank you James L Dean
Meike P. December 11, 2015
Vanilla beans :)
Angela D. December 6, 2015
Hi! I was super excited when I came across this recipe because I am half Maltese. I really want to try it but I can't get vanilla pods where I live. Can I substitute with vanilla extract?
Meike P. December 6, 2015
Hi Angela! Yes, of course, you can use high-quality vanilla extract, about 1/2-1 teaspoon for this recipe, depending on the brand, although I still prefer the pods. Happy St. Nicholas' Day!
Sheppard December 4, 2015
It seems we are missing the amount of time they should be cooked. Can you please provide? Thank you!
Meike P. December 4, 2015
It's fixed :)