The Easter Bunny is just around the corner

In honor of Easter, we wanted to share an adorable recipe from Julia Usher's book, Cookie Swap. These "bunny bottoms" are too cute and too tasty to resist.

Lemon–Poppy Seed Cottontail Cookies
Makes 2½ to 3 dozen (2¼-inch) “bunny bottoms”
Here’s what Peter Cottontail might look like if you were following him down the bunny trail. These amusing bunny bottoms are as tasty as they are whimsical. If time is of the essence, skip the optional decorating steps and serve the cookies un-iced. They’re wonderful this way as well, particularly if you prefer your cookies less sweet.

Lemon Icing (optional)
1 recipe Royal Icing (below)
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
A few drops yellow soft gel food coloring
About 6½ tablespoons strained freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided (optional, to thin icing)
About 2 tablespoons white nonpareils (optional, for coating the tails)

Lemon–Poppy Seed Cookies
2¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons poppy seeds
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1½ sticks) plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, chopped into tablespoon-size pieces
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1½ tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
1½ teaspoons pure lemon extract (or ½ to ¾ teaspoon pure lemon oil)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Powdered sugar (optional; as needed to thicken icing)

1. Make the Lemon Icing (optional). Prepare 1 recipe Royal Icing and mix in the lemon extract (or oil). If desired, add a few drops yellow food coloring to make pale yellow bunnies. Portion off about 1½ cups icing for use in Step 2. (Cover the surface of the remaining icing flush with plastic wrap and refrigerate until used in Step 7.)

2. Pipe and dry the bunny ears and tails (optional). Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper. Thin the icing to a thick outlining consistency by adding 2 to 2½ teaspoons lemon juice. Mix well. Fit a pastry bag with a small (¼-inch) round tip and fill with the icing. Pipe 2½ to 3 dozen pairs of (1½- to 2-inch-long) ears on the prepared cookie sheets. (Alternatively, make fondant ears by rolling white or tinted fondant to a 1⁄16-inch thickness with a pasta machine or rolling pin; then cut it into ears using the top portion of a bunny-shaped cookie cutter.)

After you’ve shaped the ears, pipe 2½ to 3 dozen (½-inchround) tails on a separate prepared cookie sheet. While the icing is still wet, sprinkle the white nonpareils evenly over the tails to add texture.

Allow the icing tails and ears to dry about 48 hours, or until easily removed from the parchment paper without breaking. (For fondant ears, allow about 1 week of drying time.) Slide a thin-bladed knife under each piece to loosen it before lifting. If the ears should break when loosening (long icing pieces can be fragile), try gently peeling the parchment paper away from them instead. First cut the parchment paper around each ear; then peel off the paper, working one ear at a time.

3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper.

4. Mix the Lemon–Poppy Seed Cookies. Combine the flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Place the chopped butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the egg and beat until light, about 1 more minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to ensure even mixing.

Turn the mixer to low speed and beat in the lemon zest, juice, and extracts, followed by the flour mixture. Mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.

5. Roll the dough between your palms into 1¼-inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets. For the most uniform balls, first portion the dough into mounds using a level 1½-inch (#50) scoop or 1 level tablespoon per mound; then roll into perfect balls. Flatten each ball into a 1½-inch disk by barely pressing it with the palm of your hand.

6. Bake 9 to 10 minutes, or until puffy, set, and lightly browned around the edges. Do not overbake. Immediately transfer to wire racks with an offset spatula. Cool completely before decorating or storing.

7. Glaze the bunny bodies (optional). Remove the remaining icing from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature. Add enough lemon juice (about 5½ tablespoons) to make a thick glaze. Mix well. (The glaze should thinly coat a “test” cookie, but you should not be able to see through it. Adjust the glaze consistency as needed by adding more juice to thin it or powdered sugar to thicken it.)

Set a wire rack over a sheet of parchment paper. (The paper will catch the glaze drippings and make for easier cleanup later.) Work with one cookie at a time. Hold the cookie by the bottom and completely immerse its top in the glaze. Turn the cookie right side up and gently shake it to remove excess glaze and to smooth the top. Place on the rack. Repeat with the remaining cookies.

Before the glaze dries, slide a paring knife under each cookie to sever any drippings that may be clinging to the rack. (The glaze will otherwise dry onto the rack, making it more difficult to remove the cookies later.) Dry at least 2 hours before assembling.

8. Assemble the bunnies (optional). Portion off about ½ cup of the remaining glaze and add enough powdered sugar to make a thick paste for gluing. Fill a parchment pastry cone with the icing and cut a small (1⁄8-inch) hole in the tip.

Work with one cookie at a time. Glue a tail to the top of the cookie near an edge; then glue one pair of ears to the back of the cookie. The ears should extend 1½ to 2 inches off the edge opposite the tail. Set the cookie aside and do not move it until the ears have dried in place. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Store as directed. Do not stack the cookies, or the ears may break.

Note: There will be leftover Royal Icing. Cover and store as directed (p. 151) for another use.

Royal Icing
Makes about 4½ cups, enough to top-coat 4 to 5 dozen (3-inch) cookies
This icing is by far my favorite frosting for cutout cookies. Because it contains high-protein egg whites, it dries quickly with minimal spreading; it also holds food coloring quite well with limited to no bleeding. Use this thick formulation as edible “glue” for gingerbread construction projects or adjust its consistency for other cookie decorating techniques.

Note: Since the egg whites in this recipe are not heated, it is best to use pasteurized whites to minimize the risk of food-borne illness, especially when serving the very young or old or those with compromised immune systems.

Prep Talk: Tinted icing is best used the day it is mixed because the color will dry more uniformly. Otherwise, the icing can be made 1 to 2 days ahead and stored in the fridge. Bring the icing to room temperature when ready to use and stir vigorously to restore its original consistency. Once applied to cookies, the icing should remain at room temperature so it sets into a crunchy candy-like coating.
Important: Unless you’re using the icing, always cover the surface flush with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming.

2 pounds powdered sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
About 11 tablespoons pasteurized whites (or 5 large egg whites)
Flavoring, to taste
Soft gel food coloring of your choice, to desired shade (optional)

1. Mix the powdered sugar and cream of tartar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in the egg whites by hand to moisten the sugar. Fit the electric mixer with a whip attachment and beat the mixture on low speed to evenly distribute the egg whites. Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and continue to beat about 2 minutes, until the icing is silky and very white. (The icing will lighten and thicken as you beat it.)

2. Beat in flavoring and/or food coloring, if desired. Mix well before using.

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