Ceramic, glass or wooden cookie stamps make nice Christmas presents, as well as attractive holiday cookies. On the other hand, a soft and manageable butter-based cookie dough makes for delicious results even if stamped with the bottom of a jelly jar.

Most stamped cookies are compact, crisp and "short" in texture, making them eminently suitable for serving with homemade ice cream (the Very Vanilla Butter Stamp Cookies are delicious with peppermint or eggnog ice cream), fruit mousses or puddings, or can be enjoyed on their own with a mug of warm spiced cider or mulled wine.

Hearts, clovers, stars and wheels with radiating spokes are popular designs for cookie stamps; some very old stamps include patterns of grape clusters, interlocking diamonds and checkerboard squares. All of the butter cookies in the recipes that follow look beautiful when pressed with the stamp, of course, but you could just as well use the tines of a fork or the bottom of a small juice glass to squash down balls of dough.

A soft and manageable dough that is butter-based makes the best stamped cookies. A dough rich in butter and refrigerated to firm up before baking readily holds the pattern impressed on top by the stamp. These are simple cookies that taste of pure ingredients and look thoughtfully executed.

For proper baking and good taste, it is best to use unsalted sweet butter that has not been previously frozen. Fresh butter creams nicely and incorporates with the dry ingredients without clumping or leaving solid bits of fat in the dough. Before the butter is creamed with the sugar, it should be left out at room temperature to soften until malleable (anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, depending on the temperature of your kitchen).

When the butter is soft but not oily, it is ready to be beaten on moderate speed in the bowl of a free-standing mixer for about 3 minutes. Then it will have been beaten enough to have the sugar introduced in two additions on moderate speed. Creaming the butter very thoroughly is what makes the texture of the finished cookie "melt on the tongue"; an underbeaten butter/sugar mixture creates a leaden dough.

After eggs and the appropriate flavoring have been added, as the individual recipes direct, a sifted flour mixture is slowly added to what has been creamed. This is done swiftly on low speed to incorporate all the particles of flour into a blended dough; overbeating the dough once all of the flour has been added makes a tough cookie. The dough must now be chilled until it is very firm through and through (one of the nice things about this butter dough is that it may be stored safely in the refrigerator for up to two days before baking).

To bake the cookies, take up big tablespoon globs of dough, roll into balls and arrange them neatly on cookie sheets. With the stamp lightly greased and coated in granulated sugar, press down evenly on each ball of dough to flatten and design all at once. If you have time, refrigerating the pressed cookies for about 20 minutes helps to hold the shape and stamped pattern. Complicated patterns do not bake up razor-sharp but are still pleasing to the eye.

The following recipes should generously fill the cookie basket: VERY VANILLA BUTTER STAMP COOKIES (Makes about 4 dozen 2 1/2- to 3-inch stamped cookies)

Vanilla extract and the scrapings from a small vanilla bean make for a mellow and aromatic cookie.

4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 pound unsifted confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

The interior seed scrapings from 1 small vanilla bean, about 1 teaspoon

Granulated sugar for dipping the cookie stamp in

Onto a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter for 3 minutes on moderate speed. Add the confectioners' sugar in 2 batches, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Blend in the vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds. On low speed, add the sifted mixture in fourths, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently to insure an even blending. Scrape the dough into a bowl just large enough to hold it, cover, and referigerate until firm.

To bake the cookies, take up heaping tablespoons of dough and roll into balls. Place the balls 2 inches apart on very lightly greased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Rub a light coating of butter (or just use the butter slicked over the palm of your hand from rolling the cookies) on the bottom of the cookie stamp. Dip the bottom of the stamp in granulated sugar before stamping down on each ball of dough to flatten it to about 1/3-inch thickeness.

Bake the cookies a sheet at a time on the middle level rack of a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until firm and a pale tan color. These cookies should not brown.

Remove the cookies to a metal cooking rack with a wide spatula, cool, then store in an airtight container.

Baking note: For serving, the tops of the cookies may be lightly dredged with a fine haze of sifted confectioners' sugar. POPPY SEED-ORANGE BUTTER STAMP COOKIES (Makes about 5 dozen 2 1/2- to 3-inch cookies)

The poppy seeds give this cookie a little crunch which tastes good against the background of butter and orange flavors.

4 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup oil

4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1 cup unsifted confectioners' sugar

1/3 cup poppy seeds

2 tablespoons finely grated orange rind (use the orange zest only)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Granulated sugar for dipping the cookies stamp in

Onto a large sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt; set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on moderately high speed for 3 minutes. On moderate speed, add the oil in a thin stream, beating continuously. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for 1 minute. (The mixture will be watery.) Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. On low speed, add the confectioners' sugar in 2 additions, beating for 30 seconds after each portion is added. On low speed, beat in the poppy seeds, orange rind, and vanilla.

On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients in fourths, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition to keep the dough of even consistency.

Scrape the dough into a bowl just large enough to hold it, cover, and refrigerate until firm.

To bake the cookies, take up heaping tablespoons of dough and roll into balls. Place the balls 2 inches apart on lightly greased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Lightly grease the bottom of the cookie stamp. Dip the bottom in granulated sugar and stamp down on each ball of dough to flatten it to a thickness of about 1/2 inch.

Bake the cookies a sheet at a time in the middle level of a 375-degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until firm to the touch and a pale golden color on top. Watch closely as these cookies tend to burn easily.

Remove the cookies to a metal cooling rack with a wide spatula, cool, then store in an airtight container. LEMON DELIGHT BUTTER STAMP COOKIES (Makes about 5 dozen 2 1/2- to 3-inch cookies)

These are light, lemony, lovely butter cookies that disappear very quickly. The combination of oil and butter give them the dissolve-in-your-month quality while the smooth flavor of citrus makes them sprightly. The cookies are very good all by themselves, and splendid with mousse, ice cream, and cinnamon-flavored fruit compotes.

4 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup oil

4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1 cup unsifted confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon pure lemon extract

2 tablespoons finely grated lemon rind (grate the yellow rind only)

Granulated sugar for dipping the cookie stamp in

Onto a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt; set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on moderately high speed for 3 minutes. On moderate speed, add the oil in a thin stream, beating all the while. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for 1 minute. (The mixture will appear quite liquid at this point.) Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. On low speed add the confectioners' sugar in 2 additions, beating for about 30 seconds after each portion is added. Blend in the lemon extract and rind.

On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients in fourths, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition to keep the dough of even consistency.

Scrape the dough into a bowl just large enough to hold it, cover, and refrigerate until firm.

To bake the cookies, take up heaping tablespoons of dough and roll into balls. Place the balls 2 inches apart on a very lightly greased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Lightly grease the bottom of the cookie stamp and dip the bottom in granulated sugar before stamping down on each ball of dough to flatten it to a thickness of about 1/2 inch.

Bake the cookies a sheet at a time on the middle level rack of a 375-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until firm to the touch and a light golden color on top. Watch closely, as these cookies tend to burn very easily.

Remove the cookies to a metal cooling rack with a wide spatula. Cool, then store them in an airtight container. SPICE AND ALMOND BUTTER STAMP COOKIES (Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch stamped cookies)

These butter cookies -- a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, along with finely ground almonds and pure almond extract flavor -- crumble meltingly in the mouth.

4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted sweet butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup unsifted confectioners' sugar

2 teaspoons pure almond extract

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup finely ground almonds

Granulated sugar for dipping the cookie stamp in

Onto a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg; set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on moderately high speed for 3 minutes. Beat in the confectioners' sugar on moderately low speed in 2 batches, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. On low speed, blend in the extracts and ground almonds. Beat in the sifted flour mixture in fourths, scraping down the sides of the bowl as the mixture is beating to keep it well blended.

Scrape the dough into a bowl just large enough to hold it, cover, and refrigerate until firm.

To bake the cookies, take up rounded tablespoons of dough and roll into balls. Place the balls 2 inches apart on very lightly greased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Lightly grease the bottom of the cookie stamp. Dip the bottom of the stamp in granulated sugar before stamping down on each ball of dough to flatten it to a thickness of about 1/3 inch.

Bake the cookies a sheet at a time on the middle level rack of a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes or until firm and a pale gold color. Do not allow the cookies to brown.

Remove the cookies to a metal cooling rack with a wide spatula, cool, then store them in an airtight container.

Baking note: For serving, the tops of the cookies may be dusted with a fine haze of sifted confectioners' sugar. DREAMY CHOCOLATE BUTTER STAMP COOKIES (Makes about 4 dozen 2 1/2- to 3-inch stamped cookies)

These are rich stamp cookies, made so by using deep, dark, Dutch-process cocoa powder. A light sprinkling of confectioners' sugar over the top of the cookies (dusted over just before serving) bring up the pattern in the stamp cookies.

4 cups unsifted flour, preferably unbleached

1 cup unsifted cocoa powder, sifted (preferably Dutch-process cocoa)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

2 cups confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Granulated sugar for dipping the cookie stamp

Confectioners' sugar for dusting over the cookie

Onto a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter for 3 minutes on moderate speed. Add the confectioners' sugar in thirds, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Blend in the vanilla extract. On low speed, add the sifted mixture in fourths, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently to keep the mixture even. Scrape the dough into a bowl just large enough to hold it, cover, and refrigerate until firm.

To bake the cookies, take up rounded tablespoons of dough and roll into balls. Place the balls 2 inches apart on very lightly greased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Grease the bottom of the cookie stamp. Dip the bottom of the stamp in granulated sugar before stamping down on each ball of dough to flatten it to a thickness of about 1/3 inch.

Bake the cookies, a sheet at a time, on the middle level of a 325-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Remove the cookies to a metal cooling rack with a wide spatula, then store airtight.

For serving, lightly sift confectioners' sugar over the tops of the cookies to bring out the pattern of the cookie stamp. CHOCOLATE AND WALNUT BUTTER STAMP COOKIES (Makes about 5 dozen 3-inch stamped cookies)

These fragile, sandy, rich nut and chocolate cookies are among my favorite traditional Christmas cookies.

4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached

1/2 cup unsifted cocoa, sifted (preferably Dutch process)

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup confectioners' sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup ground walnuts

Granulated sugar for dipping the cookie stamp

Onto a large sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour and cocoa; set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on moderate speed for 3 minutes. Beat in confectioners' sugar in 2 additions, beating for 1 minute after each portion is added. Blend in the salt and vanilla extract. Beat in the walnuts. On low speed, add the sifted mixture in fourths, scraping down sides of the bowl to keep the mixture well blended. Scrape the dough into a bowl just large enough to hold it, cover, and refrigerate until firm.

To bake the cookies, take up rounded tablespoons of dough and roll into balls. Place the balls 2 inches apart on very lightly greased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Lightly grease the bottom of the cookie stamp. Dip the bottom of the stamp in granulated sugar each time before stamping down on each ball of dough to flatten it to a thickness of about 1/3 inch.

Bake the cookies, a sheet at a time, on the middle level rack of a 350-degree oven about 12 minutes, or until just firm to the touch.

Remove the cookies to a metal cooking rack with a wide spatula, cool, then store in an airtight container.

For serving the cookies, lightly dredge the tops with sifted confectioners' sugar to bring out the pattern on top.