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Christmas and Winter Holiday Cookies : Beautiful, Delicious, Perfect Shortbread!
Submitted by Pam on Tue, 12/03/2013 - 03:24
Aaaaaah! Shortbread! Who can resist the rich, buttery goodness of a perfect shortbread cookie?
Shortbread originated in Scotland. Although it's predecessor (a dry, hard biscuit void of shortening or butter) has been known in Scotland since the mid 1100's, the butter rich version we know today didn't actually appear until the 1600's during the reign of Mary Queen of Scotts. And - once it did appear - the addition of butter made shortbread so expensive to serve that it was reserved for Christmas, for Scottish New Year's Eve (Hogmanay), and for weddings!
Given it's history, it is no wonder a tin of delicious shortbread is almost always present as part of our Christmas traditions.
A true Shortbread according to Shortbread purists is made using only three ingredients - flour, butter and sugar - in very specific proportions. But type the words "shortbread recipes" into your search engine and you will find that Shortbread has gone the way of the Martini! There are versions that include almost every possible addition from chocolate, pistachios, lemon, and almond to ginger, cinnamon, maple and espresso!
Some will argue against shortbread containing anything other than butter, sugar and white flour being called shortbread. Others, find the variety exciting and try every possible variation!
For the three recipes I am sharing in this post, I am sticking close to tradition, although even the recipe I use (closest of all to "pure shortbread") includes vanilla!
King Arthur Flour has designed a lovely version that behaves very nicely when stamped with Springerle molds - it holds the shape of the mold perfectly while delivering a delicious and tender, almost cake-like shortbread cookie.
Cardamon Shortbread and my own Scottish Shortbread recipes yield a very, very tender cookie that is at the same time crunchy. This is my favored shortbread texture. They tend to be a bit lighter than traditional shortbread due mainly to the fact that the butter and sugar are creamed until fluffy. While the butter and sugar are creamed together in traditional shortbread, the work is done by hand and therefore less air is incorporated and yields a denser cookie.
Traditionally, shortbread is baked in a large round shallow disk and cut into triangular wedges; shaped into round biscuit shaped cookies; or cut into long narrow rectangles. But most recipes will work well with cookie cutters (one roll only please) and if you bake the Springerle Shortbread shared here, you can use your beautiful Springerle molds to make beautifully detailed designs atop your cookies!
Ceramic Shortbread Pans like the one from Brown Bag Cookie Art above offer the best of all worlds! The dough is pressed into the cookie pan and once baked and turned out, cut into clearly marked triangles!
Note: Add a couple teaspoons of caraway seeds to any shortbread recipe you are planning to cut into triangles and you will be treating yourself to the Shortbread version most favored by Mary Queen of Scotts!
RECIPES FOR SHORTBREAD
Springerle Shortbread (from King Arthur Flour) : recipe here
I am seriously excited about finding this recipe!!!
After many disappointing experiences with recipes for Springerle, I had almost given up on ever using the beautiful Springerle molds I had collected.
But this has been a very good year! First I discovered a couple really delicious Speculaas recipes that work beautifully with the molds and now just this past month I have discovered Springerle Shortbread from the brilliant bakers at King Arthur Flour!
My small collection! I purchased my own molds from House on the Hill several years ago. King Arthur has added a Springerle rolling pin to their catalogue here! But apparently they use the same source for their flat molds as I do.
What I love - really love - the shapes imprinted in the cookie dough do not slump during baking! So your cookies look like beautiful Springerle cookies but without the teeth jarring hardness! These cookies are a tender, cake-like shortbread.
The recipe calls for less flour than what would be normal for a shortbread recipe calling for this quantity of butter and sugar, and it also calls for an egg - so of course one would expect more of a cake-like texture.
Unlike most shortbread cookies, the cookies are baked at a very high temperature. So, given the ingredient list and the high temperature, I had no expectation that the mold details would remain clear and defined. But it did!! Beautifully imprinted holiday cookies!!!
Cardamon Shortbread Cookies (Country Living via Delish.com) : recipe : here
Cardamon Shortbread Cookies are amazing!!
Light, tender and delicious. Easy to mix together, and after chilling the dough is a dream to roll out and cut into shapes. (I would, however, suggest sticking to shapes like circles or hearts so they will bake evenly.)
Actually, the recipe suggests rolling the cookie dough to about 1/4" thickness and using 2" round cookie cutters. My cookies are closer to 3" and only about 1/8" thick so I adjusted the baking time to about 10 minutes.
Also, I really didn't want to purchase rose water for this one recipe so after a "replacement search" on line, I decided to replace the rose water with almond extract - about half of the amount of rose water called for so the delicate flavor of the cardamon would not be overpowered.
Oh and I didn't add the almonds! For the first time in 100 years, I was out of almonds! But they are not being missed one bit! Really - the cookies are just that much more like a shortbread.
I like the addition of colored sugar crystals sprinkled on top - makes them festive and pretty. And besides the flavor, what I love most about this shortbread cookie is that it literally melts in your mouth!!! Light and crumbly to the bite, a lovely crunch and finally a cardamon laced buttery goodness on the tongue.
Scottish Shortbread : recipe below!
This is most likely the only personal recipe I am sharing in the Christmas and Winbter Holiday Cookie Recipe series.
I am sharing it because it makes delicious shortbread. The flavor is divine. And the cookie texture is a lovely crisp tender crunch - perfect shortbread! And quite frankly, there are many not so great shortbread recipes out there and I see no point in anyone finding a good shortbread recipe the hard way! Like I did!
If this is your first experience with baking Shortbread, use this recipe!! You will not be disappointed. Take them to work and your boss may even be moved to give you a raise!
Basically the recipe calls for traditional proportions of butter, sugar and flour but I have added vanilla because we both adore the extra flavor boost vanilla provides. And I like to sprinkle a few large sugar crystals on top for just a little extra sugar hit!
I use "Baker's Sugar" instead of regular granulated sugar. The sugar crystals in Baker's sugar are much smaller and will dissolve into the cookie dough beautifully. It is usually found along side granulated and confectioner's sugars in the baking aisle of most groceries.
RECIPE FOR SCOTTISH SHORTBREAD
1 pound butter (I like to use salted butter)
1 Cup Baker's Sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
4 cups flour ( weigh your flour!! 17 oz of flour - see this post)
Large crystal sugar for top (optional)
TECHNIQUE FOR MAKING SHORTBREAD
Bring butter to room temperature. Beat until very creamy, add sugar and beat until very fluffy. (Incorporated air makes a lighter, crispy tender cookie.
If you prefer your shortbread dense, minimize beating the sugar and butter together. Beat just enough to mix thoroughly. Remember - shortbread was mixed by hand for many, many years!
Add vanilla and salt. Finally add flour and mix just until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
Pat the dough out as evenly as possible onto the back of an 11x17 jelly roll pan. This will take a bit of patience - what is important is that the dough is as close as possible to the same thickness throughout.
I find that dusting a rolling pin with flour and lightly rolling it over the surface helps to identify thick and thin spots. Distribute dough as needed to even it out.
Using a sharp knife, lightly score the surface of the dough. The score lines will be cutting guides later. I try to make my cookies 3/4" x 1 1/2".
To make the score lines, gently lay the knife blade on the dough and without applying downward pressure, drag the knife across the surface from one side of the pan to the other. The object is not to cut through the dough but only to create a guide line.
Try to make the lines as straight as possible, but it is not necessary to go nuts trying for perfection!! The cookies can be slightly different sizes. When I end up with cookies of different sizes, I simply bake the bigger ones together and the smaller ones together.
What is most important is the thickness of the dough. Distributing the dough so that it is an even thickness throughout is worth "fussing" over. Drawing perfectly straight, evenly spaced lines - not so much!!
Once the dough has been scored, use a table fork to make three sets of holes in each cookie. Unlike the "knife guide lines" which should barely cut the surface, the holes made with the fork should go all the way through the cookies! This allows air to circulate better and bake the cookie more evenly.
Place a piece of waxed paper over the dough and place in the freezer until dough is frozen.
Once the shortbread dough is completely frozen, remove the tray from the freezer. Use a sharp knife to cut cookies apart along the score lines. Place cookies into a zip-lock baggie and return to the freezer until ready to bake - overnight or for a couple weeks!
When ready to bake, set the oven to 275 degrees. (That is not a typo - 275 degrees!) The low baking temperature allows the sugar to caramelize and the cookies to develop that amazing buttery flavor.
Place a piece of parchment paper on a cushioned cookie sheet. Arrange shortbread bars about 1" apart.
There will be some variation in thickness of the cookies no matter how diligently you worked to even out the dough, so it is a good idea to always place thicker cookies on the outside edges - thinner cookies toward the center.
At this point, if you wish, you can sprinkle a few sparkly grains of large crystal sugar on top of each cookie.
Bake the cookies for about 35 to 40 minutes.
After 20 minutes baking time, turn the cookie try around to help with even baking. And at 30 minutes, begin checking the cookies frequently to make sure they don't bake too long and become brown. I usually set my timer for 2 minutes and reset as many times as needed until the shortbread is perfect.
What you are going for here is a nice "shortbread" color - kind of a warm golden color. Don't pull them out too soon - under baked shortbread just isn't all that good!!
When done, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to completely cool.
Now brew yourself a lovely cup of holiday tea and indulge in the buttery goodness that only shortbread can deliver!
Check out more winter holiday cookie goodness here. You will find links to Speculaas, Pfeffernusse, Pepparkakor, Biscotti, Lebkuchen and Norwegian Christmas Cookies!
Christmas is almost here! Time to start baking cookies!