You can see the sugar on top. The dough itself is unsweetened, but a serious amount of vanilla sugar is rolled and pressed directly into the dough. The layers are created by four rounds of rolling and folding the dough, and they automatically fan out like that during baking. And I just realized I only rolled and folded three times, which is probably why mine don't have quite as many layers as Lynne's. I don't think it compromised the taste, though.
Lynne's instructions are great as written, so I'm going to borrow heavily from them and insert a few of my own tips and lessons. Be sure to visit her blog to see pictures, particularly of the rolling/cutting process. First thing: the dough needs to be made the night before - or it needs to chill at least 4 hours before shaping the cookies - so give yourself time to make these.
Makes 64 cookies
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package) - NOT rapid rise, bread machine, or pizza crust
1/4 cup warm water (100 - 110F)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 cups (14 7/8 ounces) flour
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (I used unsalted butter, so I increased it to 1 1/2 teaspoons)
2 sticks butter, chilled, cut into tablespoon-sized chunks
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
In a warm, medium-sized bowl, combine water, yeast, and sugar. Proof until frothy, about 10 minutes, while you do the next steps.
In a separate, large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Cut in butter until rice-sized with two knives or a pastry cutter.
To the yeast mixture, add eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Stir thoroughly with a fork to make a dough. Divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight (preferred). Place the dough parcels side-by-side, not stacked, to ensure they cool evenly. If a little of the flour didn't mix in, you can sprinkle it evenly on top of the dough before wrapping it in plastic; it will incorporate fine when you roll it out.
When you're ready to form the cookies, preheat the oven to 375F. Stir together the sugar and vanilla in a small bowl until evenly distributed. It will be the consistency of loose, damp sand. Cover the bowl so the sugar doesn't dry out.
Prepare a large, dry surface. I used my rolling mat, but a big cutting board would also work. Put half the vanilla sugar in a pile and place one piece of dough on top. (Leave the rest of the dough in the fridge.) Lay the plastic wrap on top and then roll the dough into a 16x8" rectangle. That way, the rolling pin won't stick to the dough. Scoop up any sugar from around the edges and sprinkle it on the top. Don't worry about the sugar underneath; it will become incorporated.
Position the rectangle so the long edge is along the bottom. Fold it in thirds like a letter. Give the dough a quarter-turn, lay the plastic wrap on top, and roll it into a 16x8" rectangle again. Again, scoop up the extra sugar and sprinkle it on the dough. Use all the sugar. Repeat this process twice more (fold, turn, roll). This is how you're making the layers!! Your rectangle should actually be pretty straight, but trim the edges slightly with a knife if needed to get as straight a rectangle as possible.
Now it's time to cut the dough. Cut four even strips that are 4" wide. Then cut each strip into eight, 1" wide strips. (You're going to end up with 32 strips of dough that are 1x4" wide.)
For this recipe, you want to double the cookie sheets, meaning use two pans, layered together. This lets the tops of the cookies bake while ensuring the bottoms don't get too dark. You can either line the cookie sheet with tinfoil or a silpat (nothing sticks to those suckers!) but if you use a silpat, I'd still line the top cookie sheet with tinfoil in case some of the hot sugar syrup runs off. Easier for cleanup but not too wasteful. I recommend that because you can prep a second silpat with the next batch of cookie dough and let it wait in the fridge, then just swap out the silpats when the first batch is done baking and throw the cookie sheets right back into the oven.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though!
Pick up one 1x4" dough rectangle. Twist it twice, over-twisting if needed to stretch the dough in the middle. Lay it on the prepared cookie sheet, making sure the dough lies flat. You can press it down a little if the edges start to curl up. Repeat until you have shaped 16 cookies. They don't spread much, so they should fit just fine on your cookie sheet.
Place the double cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a rich golden brown. Mine took about 16 1/2 minutes. While the cookies are baking, form the other 16 cookies and place them in the fridge, especially if it's warm in your kitchen, The sugar on mine started to melt and the dough looked a little droopy, but they baked up fine.
When the cookies are ready, use a spatula to immediately transfer them to a wire rack. Otherwise the caramelized sugar will harden and stick. Using oven mitts, remove the Silpat and replace it with the next one, and then whisk the pans right back into the oven. If you are baking straight on tinfoil, you might have to cool the pans a bit before you can line the pan with a new sheet of foil.
Repeat all of this with the second ball of dough.
Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days. They can also be frozen for two weeks. Defrost at room temperature with the bag unzipped, so that moisture can evaporate and not melt the sugar or make the cookies soggy. When they are defrosted, re-zip the bag.