Icebox cookies are cookies which are made from a dough which has been refrigerated or frozen, typically in a log shape. Although many people may associate these cookies with logs of frozen dough in supermarkets, there are a number of home icebox cookie recipes as well. The freezing or cooling makes the dough stiffer, and ideally suited to slicing into thin rounds for baking. There are numerous ways to make icebox cookies, and if you want unusually patterned cookies like pinwheels and checkerboard cookies, a refrigerated dough recipe is the way to go.
The concept of chilling doughs to make them easier to work with is very old. Many pie dough recipes, for example, call for chilling because it stiffens the dough, allowing it to be rolled out and worked. Busy cooks realized that if they chilled cookie dough in a rolled log, they could simply cut off cookies as needed for baking, rather than having to roll the dough out and use cookie cutters. Recipes which could be chilled came to be known as icebox cookies, in a reference to the iceboxes which adorned many porches before the refrigerator became widespread.
Many modern recipes which call for chilled dough are known as refrigerator or freezer cookies. In all cases, the best dough is a rich, buttery cookie dough which could also be rolled out and cut into sugar cookies. Icebox cookies are much tidier and less wasteful, because bakers do not end up with scraps of dough after the cutting process is complete. In addition, bakers can make a big batch of dough and freeze it so that cookies can be made in a snap. At Halloween and Christmas, icebox cookies with shapes like pumpkins and Christmas trees baked into them are quite common, and very easy to make at home.
For a basic icebox cookie dough, cream one cup of butter with three quarters of a cup of sugar before adding one egg, two teaspoons of vanilla, and a pinch of salt. When the mixture is thoroughly combined, add two and one half cups of flour. This basic dough can be rolled up and chilled for slicing as is, or you try adding variations.
For classic pinwheel cookies, for example, divide the dough in half and add three tablespoons of cocoa to one half. Roll the vanilla and chocolate doughs into flat sheets, and then roll the sheets up together into a log for chilling. After the dough has chilled for several hours, use a sharp knife to cut it into individual cookies for baking. This basic concept can be used to make checkerboard cookies or more ambitious patterned cookies, with the assistance of food coloring and an assortment of flavorings. Your imagination is the limit; try playing with additions like cream cheese, nuts, lemon zest, or fruit purees. Most cookbooks have several recipes for icebox cookies which you can experiment with.