You’ve gotta love when a recipe idea comes out even better than expected. Such is the case with these Iced Lemon Pillow Cookies.
It’s not that I thought that these wouldn’t come out great, since they are based on my well loved Italian Biscotti recipe. But, wow, they really are a fun little cookie.
I originally planned to work on this recipe and get it out to you this past holiday season. I figured it would be a great addition to your holiday cookie trays. Alas, plans change…I decided to work on it closer to the spring season.
They’re lemony and wonderful, so they’re quite perfect at this time of year, or really any time of year.
That’s the problem with Italian Biscotti; I only make them at Christmas. We love them so much, I started thinking… why don’t I make them any other time of year?
After all, we do pumpkin year ’round in this house. Pumpkin waffles, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin oatmeal…It was rather fun to have pumpkin in any and all seasons until the crazy race to everything pumpkin spice happened.
It kind of ruined it for us. It didn’t ruin it right away, but year after year, we just got overwhelmed with the amount of pumpkin spice everything available. And because we loved the whole idea, we tried a lot of the things out there.
We still love all things pumpkin, but the whole idea isn’t quite as shiny and novel as it used to be.
Maybe that’s why we don’t have Christmas cookies all year…or turkey and stuffing. It just wouldn’t feel as special if we had them ALL of the time. “To everything there is a season…”
It’s like Irish Soda Bread. I can’t wait to make my favorite recipe of it this week. I love it so much that I feel like I’d like to have it around more than once a year. But, I never make it other than around St. Patrick’s Day.
Of course, that’s probably why I created Irish Soda Bread Scones. Then, it’s all the flavors of Irish Soda Bread but in a delicious, yet different form. Ha! It’s like having your bread and getting your scone, too!
Which brings me back to this cookie. It gives me another opportunity to make a favorite recipe, but in a completely different way.
Honestly, it was inspired by my readers. It was the droves of passionate bakers that shared their own beloved memories of a traditional cookie on my biscotti post.
They shared the similarities and differences to my cookie. Some added other flavors, some tied them in knots. One mentioned that her family cut them into little pillows.
Some also graciously shared that my cookie should NOT be named “Biscotti” because biscotti means twice baked and this cookie was soft and only once baked.
In any case, I was simply honoring the tradition for the recipe that was handed down through generations and kept the name as it was given to me.
With all of that reader inspiration, I thought, what am I waiting for? I need to expand this recipe to other flavors!
Lemon seemed a perfect flavor variation and the whole pillow cut idea? Sign me up. Iced Lemon Pillow Cookies. Perfect. (And no controversial “biscotti” in the name ;)
I used lemon zest to flavor the dough, a full Tablespoon. Fresh lemons are mandatory in my book. Zest the fresh lemons. Juice the fresh lemons. Don’t use any juice from a bottle or you’ll miss a true, fresh lemon taste.
(I will tell you that I think this is a great place to add lemon juice powder if you want to really punch up the lemon flavor. I know many of you don’t keep it in your pantry, so I created the recipe without it. (Check out the recipe notes if you want to try it out.)
The zest gives the dough a mild lemony flavor. Not too strong, but definitely present. (You’ll definitely smell it when you open the oven to take the cookies out.)
About the pillow cuts… I’ve always twisted this dough. I wasn’t sure how my “pillow cuts” were going to work out, but there was no need to worry. They couldn’t have worked out better!
First, the pillow cut is much easier than the twists. And, you roll a bigger log to cut so the whole rolling and cutting process goes by faster. So far, so good.
Now you can make any size pillow you’d like. I opted for petite sized cookies. If you make a larger cookie, simply adjust baking time.
They don’t spread much, so you’ll be able to fit quite a few on your baking sheet. (And yes, I’ll admit that every time I look at the photo below, I want to nudge that one little cookie in the second row up and straighten out the line :)
You’ll know they are done when they puff and then start to crack. You don’t want to over bake these cookies. They should only be very lightly browned on the bottom. Take them out before they start browning on the edges.
When they’re cool, you’ll make the icing. The icing is wonderful! It’s just freshly squeezed lemon juice and powdered sugar.
The lemon flavor in the icing really punches up the whole idea that this is a lemon cookie. The mild lemon flavor in the cookie is complimented by the icing. I decided that that was better than having a super lemony cookie and a super lemony icing.
The icing process for these cookies is kind of fun. Why? Because you don’t have to tediously ice each one with a knife. It’s dip, scrape and go with these cookies. (And I love that it looks like they have little pillow cases on them!)
I just drop a cookie into the icing face down, then grab the edges, pick it and scrape off the excess on the side of the icing bowl. Then, I place the cookies on a waxed paper lined tray to dry.
If you want the icing to drip completely off the cookie and not form the occasional puddle on your baking sheet, go ahead and let them dry on a rack placed over a tray. (I happen to like a quicker clean up, so I use just the lined tray.)
Rainbow sprinkles are pretty traditional for my Italian Biscotti, but I originally envisioned these with just the simple coating of plain icing.
Then, I spied some white sprinkles in my pantry. I decided at least some of the cookies should have that extra little touch.( I also had yellow jimmies. But, honestly, they were a bright yellow and didn’t really work for me. I nixed that idea.)
I wanted these cookies to look natural and pretty and delicate, like beautiful little tea cookies. If you’re all about color though, you can color the dough, the icing and/or use yellow sprinkles. All, some or none. I chose none.
These Iced Lemon Pillow Cookies are soft cookies. Even though they’re the child of a cookie named, “Biscotti,” they are not crisp in the least.
And while they are soft, they are not like little cakes. They don’t have the airiness of a cake. They most definitely belong in the soft cookie category.
When I took my first bite I immediately thought, “Wow, these taste like a lemon square!” It’s the icing. It gives that super lemony hit that you get from a lemon square.
Here’s the other thing…I didn’t tell anyone these were a version of anything else. No one said, “Hey, these are just like lemon Italian Biscotti!”
Nope. They just said, “Oh my gosh! What are these? They are delicious!”
Then I told them that these Iced Lemon Pillow Cookies were a lemony version of Italian Biscotti.
Which means I’ve just added a version of one of our favorite holiday cookies to a non-holiday time of year. And, I’m not overdoing a favorite cookie because this tastes like a whole NEW cookie. Yep, it even looks different!
Now, if we could only figure out the same fix for pumpkin spice :)
Iced Lemon Pillow Cookies
For the cookies:
- 3 cups all purpose flour see note on how to measure
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup salted butter cool room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
For the icing:
- 2 cups confectioner's sugar
- 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice more as needed
- lemon zest
Make the cookies:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to combine. Set aside.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter for 30 seconds or until creamy. Add sugars and continue beating until well combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating each before adding the next one. Add the vanilla and lemon zest until combined.
With the mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture to the butter mixture just until fully combined and there are no dry bits at the bottom of the bowl. Take care not to over mix. Over mixing will produce a tough cookie.
On a lightly floured surface, take a large spoonful of cookie dough. I scoop almost 1/2 cup. Flour your hands and roll the dough into a log about 1 1/4 inches wide. Trim about 1/4" off each end with a sharp knife so you'll have clean cut ends. (Dip the knife in flour if you're having trouble with it sticking to the dough.) Cut 1" long pillows. Take any excess cuttings and place them back into the bowl for re-rolling. Repeat scooping, rolling and cutting the dough into pillows until all dough has been cut. When there's not enough dough left to create a log, just take any remaining bits of dough and roll into a ball/s about the same size as the pillows.
Place cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet about 1 1/2" apart. The cookies will not spread too much, but give them some room in between. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are set, the bottoms are just very lightly browned and the tops have begun to crack a bit. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet.
Make the icing:
When the cookies are cool, make the icing. Place 2 cups of confectioner's sugar into a medium bowl. Add 2 Tablespoons of the freshly squeezed lemon juice and stir or whisk to combine. Continue adding lemon juice a teaspoon at a time until you achieve a thick drizzling consistency.
Drop a pillow cookie face down into the bowl of icing. Press gently to insure the top is coated. Grab the edge of the cookie and lift it up off the surface of the icing. Scrape the top gently against the side of the bowl to remove any excess icing. Place iced cookies on a wax lined tray or on a cooling rack set over a cookie sheet to dry. Once the icing is fully set, you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days or freeze them for longer storage.
If you want to add sprinkles or other toppings, add them just after you dip the cookies, before the icing sets.
*Make sure you measure your flour correctly. I use the spoon and sweep method. The goal is not to compact the flour into the cup. Stir the flour to fluff and lighten it. Spoon it lightly into the measuring cup and sweep a flat edge (like the back of a knife) across the top to scrape off any excess. A cup of flour for me weights 4.25 ounces. If you over measure the flour, you'll end up with a dry, crumbly cookie.
*I used about 3 lemons for the lemon zest. I juiced 2 of those lemons for the icing. Make sure you zest the lemons before juicing them.
*If you'd like to see some lemon zest in your icing, go ahead and zest a bit more lemon and stir it in.
*This is a recipe that would be perfect for using lemon juice fruit powder. You can read about it in my KAF favorites post. I didn't add it because most people don't have it in their pantry, but if you do, I would probably add a Tablespoon or so for an extra punch of lemony flavor in the cookie dough.
*This recipe makes about 56 petite cookies. They are the perfect one or two bite treat.
Adapted from Italian Biscotti.
The Merchant Baker Copyright © 2018