Shortbread cookies are traditionally associated with Christmastime. Even though we don’t observe Christmas, this Jew has been to plenty of Christmas “tree trimming” parties where poinsettas and tinsel decorate the room and egg nog and shortbread cookies adorn the table. In fact, one of the most memorable experiences of my life was as a college student attending midnight mass in the third largest cathedral in the world in Seville, Spain on Christmas Eve. And, guess what was being offered to all the “congregants” on the way out? Shortbread Cookies!
I adore the delicate, buttery taste of shortbread cookies. My favorite ones are the Royal Shortbread cookies which are handsomely dipped in milk chocolate on one end. But, of course, I’ve never bothered to bake any version. Sadly, I’ve only purchased them in stores around holiday time. For me, it was just too easy to pick up a beautifully-wrapped tin full of these treats only to hand them over as a holiday gift for my kids’ teacher or colleague.
So, what got me out of my 30 year baking hibernation this holiday season? My Basically Baking Class at the Culinary Institute. I was even more thrilled to learn we’d be baking shortbread cookies as our class test cookie. The baking stars were aligning.
Compared to the chocolate chunk scones and the rosemary focaccia bread, both of which were fairly easy to bake, the shortbread cookies were almost too simple. I’m actually embarrassed I never thought to try to bake these at home. There’s absolutely nothing difficult about the recipe. It only contains three ingredients all of which are staples in everyone’s pantry: butter, sugar, flour. In fact, you don’t even need to worry about how far apart the cookies need to be placed on the sheet because this particular dough doesn’t even change shape! It doesn’t spread much at all. Sheesh, I’ve made drip castles at the beach that seem harder than this.
Similar to sugar cookies, shortbread cookies create the most ideal non-sticky dough base with which you can use all different shaped cutters. My baking class was restricted to adults so we were obviously only offered simple round cookie cutters. However, create a family shortbread baking activity at home and you can have a ton of fun with the cutters. My son would opt for skiiers or roller coaster cutters and my daughter would opt for musical notes, peaces signs, etc.. Either way, they’d have a blast.
Let’s face it, wouldn’t you feel that much better arriving anywhere with a homemade gift rather than something that looks like it was just effortlessly picked up from the store on the way to the party? 90% of the time, I had been that guest. I would arrive with the random generic bottle of wine or the non-descript serving dish.
But, I’ve now learned the real advantage to giving homemade or home-baked goods: the intangible, thoughtful “personal touch” that simply can’t be replicated.
Scottish Shortbread Cookies (adapted from The Parisian Pantry)
- 1/2 pound best unsalted butter (grade AA or better)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Place butter in mixer and beat with paddle until soft and light. Beat in sugar in a stream and continue beating 5-10 minutes until the mixture is very light and whitened.
- Reduce machine to low speed and add in flou until absorbed. Don’t beat too long or the dough will toughen.
- Scrape the dough onto a floured surface and flour the dough with pinches of flour. Press the dough out with the hands, then roll over once or twice very gently with a rolling pin until the dough is approximately 1/2 inch thick.
- Cut the dough with cutters (fun ones) and carefully transfer the cut ones to a paper-lined jelly roll pan.
- Bake the shortbread at 325 degrees about 15 minutes until it is VERY lightly colored. Cool on a rack.
Disclosure: I received no compensation for attending this class. I have wonderful friends who gave me a very thoughtful gift certificate to the Institute of Culinary Education. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.
Well, what are your favorite holiday cookies to eat? What are your favorite to make?