The cookie recipe is VERY basic: flour, salt, butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla. That is it. There is no leaving agent in the batter at all. The true secret -- the idea that makes this recipe foolproof - is the fact that you roll the dough out between sheets of wax paper immediately after mixing the ingredients together. THEN you refrigerate the rolled out dough approximately 20 minutes - just long enough to clean up the mixing bowl and wipe down the counter tops. After the dough is stiff, you cut out the shapes and bake. It really is foolproof, and personally I like the flavor of the cookie as it is not too sweet, which compliments the royal icing decorations.
The instructions for decorating the cookies are quite detailed and if you follow them to the T - they work rather well. First, you pipe an outline on all cookies using a standard royal icing recipe. Next, you flood the cookie with a very thin layer of royal icing. My "flooding" technique leaves a lot to be desired, but for a first time effort, I think it worked ok. I ended up spooning the mixture on the cookie (the piping bag was just too much of a mess) and then used a toothpick to spread the icing into the various nooks and crannies. It took me approximately 2 hours to decorate the 3.5 dozen cookies and I am exhausted. BUT...I am thrilled to have traditional holiday cookies to place on my Christmas Eve buffet.
I would definitely recommend this little book to anyone who enjoys holiday baking and aspires to creating wonderfully decorated cookies. The recipes are good, the instructions are invaluable, and the ideas are inspiring.