Dropping the cookies by rounded teaspoonfuls will give your lemon drops a craggy shape beneath their powdered-sugar exterior. Round the dough into balls by
Dropping the cookies by rounded teaspoonfuls will give your lemon drops a craggy shape beneath their powdered-sugar exterior. Round the dough into balls by hand before baking for a smoother look. (Mel Barber — mbarber@yorkdispatch.com)

Tucked amid the snowballs and the peanut butter kisses and the jam thumbprints at almost any Christmas cookie exchange is the humble lemon drop cookie.

Lemon drops come in several forms, from the quick-and-easy start-with-a-cake-mix variety to the moist complexity of lemon curd and ricotta cheese. Here's an in-between version from Rachael Ray for purists who prefer to start from scratch and beginners who won't find the recipe hard to handle.

I've included the optional frosting for those who want one; lemon drops can be frosted, glazed or coated in powdered sugar. I'm a fan of the latter.

Note that the dough will be tacky and cling to itself like a yeasty bread dough stretching. It's one of those rare times when rolling the dough into balls by hand really is faster and easier than using a cookie scoop. You'll end up with about 40 cookies.

Lemon Drop Cookies

2 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. baking powder

¼ cup butter or shortening

½ cup milk

1 large egg, beaten

2 tsp. lemon extract

Frosting

2 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup butter or shortening

¼ cup warm milk, divided

1 tsp. lemon extract

1. Heat the oven to 375.

2. Coat a baking sheet lightly with nonstick cooking spray or lay down parchment paper.

3. Combine the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the butter or shortening. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the butter or shortening is completely blended into the flour mixture. Add the milk, egg and lemon extract, mixing just until blended.

4. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Place 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely on the baking sheet on a wire rack.

5. If not frosting or glazing, roll the cookies in powdered sugar or sift powdered sugar over the tops.

6. If frosting, beat the powdered sugar, butter or shortening, 2 tablespoons warm milk and lemon extract in a medium size bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until blended. Beat in the additional warm milk, a little at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. Spread on top of the cookies.

-- Reach Mel Barber at mbarber@yorkdispatch.com.