For anyone with Scots background, shortbread is the Christmas cookie. In whatever “shape or form”, to quote my Dad, it might come. It also happens to be my very favorite cookie of any season and you can find it on the blog in a few incarnations... The endless variations are a large part of its intrinsic attraction for this baker:
Last week, I even made some little cheese wafers for wine or beer snacks out of a similar dough. Yes, I’m obsessed; I freely admit it.
Notoriously good with strong tea laced with Brandy or milk, I also like plain shortbread with a wee dram of whisky (Scotch to Americans) or a nip of Sherry late in night in front of the tree.
I have no trouble chomping down a piece or two with a big mug of strong coffee or hot chocolate for breakfast, despite no longer having a reliable sweet tooth.
For this cookie, you can make the shortbread itself using a traditional Scottish shortbread recipe, which often contains some rice flour to create a sandy texture. If you’d like that recipe, follow this link. If you have another favorite recipe, it will work fine to make these fun Christmas joys. Below, I’ve used a recipe from Eli Zabar that Ina Garten uses–Zabars’ still sells the baked shortbread, in fact– and it’s become my go-to for shortbread over the years. It just can’t go wrong and a child could easily make it, though strict supervision with the food processor or mixer might be in order. There are so few ingredients that you could memorize them and certainly no special trip to the store need be made.
Make the basic cookie any time of year, though the peppermint and chocolate version lends itself to the holidays. I happened to have baked mine in the midst of a wretched, cold and snowy day in Colorado, first watching the roaring Netflix Christmas carol fire…
and later steaming once again through “Love, Actually,” which begins with a lovely quote about 9/11:
Prime Minister: Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.
Later on, the same Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, mentions the US being the the most-powerful country in the world. I heard the total opposite of those words the other day on the German news and then again from an interview about Australia’s views of our current situation. Heart-breaking. Want to read all the best quotes from the movie? Click here.
Did I say that plain old shortbread keeps months and months? You might want to store away some undecorated pieces for after Christmas when the tree is gone, carols cds are stored until next year, and life seems a little too quiet…
In the meantime to get your merry on, try this, my friends:
CHOCOLATE-PEPPERMINT SHORTBREAD COOKIES
makes about 72 cookies
This is quite a sweet cookie. If you’d like to cut back on its treacly nature, leave off the peppermint or cut it down to just the ends of the cookies. Dip each end in the thin icing and then into the crushed peppermint. Follow with the chocolate drizzles as below.
- 3/4 pound soft unsalted butter
- 1 cup white, granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups unbleached flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (no salt if you used salted butter)
- 1/2 cup ( more) crushed peppermint candies (I like Hammonds, made in Denver, an used 2 2-ounce large peppermint candy canes that I crushed with a rolling pin in a plastic storage bag.)
Instructions to make cookie dough:
Mix together together the butter and the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer or in
the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade until just combined. Add vanilla.
Sift the flour and salt and add it to the butter and sugar. Mix or pulse until the dough starts to come together.
Dump dough on a floured board and shape into a flat disc or rectangle. Refrigerate, tightly wrapped, for 30 minutes. If you leave the dough in longer –even overnight–that’s fine. You’ll just need to let it sit out a little while until it’s easy to cut.
Cutting and Baking:
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Divide the dough into half and roll each piece of dough out into a rectangle approximately 6″ x 12″, 1/4″ thick on a floured surface. Cut into 1 inch X 3 inch bars, carefully placing each bar on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake 13-15 minutes– just until edges show the faintest signs of gold.
Remove sheets with cookies to cooling rack; let sit a minute or so. With a sharp-edged spatula, remove the cookies to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.
Spoon a little thin glaze (recipe below) evenly on the top of each piece of shortbread (or dip cookie into icing) and then dip firmly and briefly into the bowl of crushed peppermint. Place cookies back on rack and let sit to dry a few minutes. Drizzle (recipe below) lightly with melted chocolate and then white chocolate drizzle “icing.” Let sit another hour or so or until dry.
Store in tightly sealed containers layered between sheets of waxed paper for 2 days at altitude or perhaps 4-5 days at sea level OR freeze for up to a month.
About freezing: Cookies will, of course, keep longer than a month stored at 0 degrees F, but they will lose much of their taste as they dehydrate in the freezer for longer periods of time. A self-defrosting freezer is not a good place for cookies or any baked goods — or anything to my mind. If you buy a big freezer, make sure you buy one you must defrost yourself, as the self-defrosting models continually turn off and on to keep the freezer defrosted. The ice crystals in your baked goods form, melt and reform, ruining their taste and texture. Check the temperature periodically to make sure it’s at 0 degrees F.)
THIN GLAZE AND CHOCOLATE DRIZZLES
Thin Glaze: Whisk together 1 cup confectioner’s sugar with 2 tablespoons of water until smooth in a small mixing bowl.
White Chocolate Drizzle: 1 cup white chocolate chips. Melt in microwave at power level 5 for 1 minute in a glass measuring cup.* Stir well and repeat for 10 more seconds at a time until chocolate beats smooth. Spoon or scrape with a narrow rubber spatula into a small decorating bag with plain small tip or into small plastic storage bag. (I put the bag in a large mug, pulling the sides of the bag over the edges of the mug, and fill it there.) Squeeze icing down into corner of the bag and twist bag, making sure it’s nearly closed. Make a very tiny clip made in the corner (if using a plastic storage bag like Ziplock–otherwise follow directions for piping bag) and pipe/drizzle onto cookies as desired. (A basic video here using just a fork–no bag.)
*Alternately, warm and melt the chocolate pieces in a double boiler (a smaller pot that is set on top of a another pot of simmering water) on the stovetop until melted.
Chocolate Drizzle: 1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips. Melt in microwave at full power for 30 seconds in a covered glass measuring cup. (Or follow alternate directions above.) Stir well and repeat for 10 more seconds at a time until smooth. Use above directions for filling bag and piping/drizzling on cookies.
Cook’s Notes: 1. The tinier the hole in your bag, the skinnier the drizzle will be. 2. The warmer the chocolate, the easier it will come out of the bag. 3. Some people melt chocolate directly in a plastic storage bag. I’m iffy on plastic in the microwave, so choose to melt my chocolate in a glass measuring cup and use a thin rubber spatula to get it from the cup into a bag. Leftover drizzle can be stored in the fridge; just make sure you put it in another bag before refrigerating or you’ll have drizzle all over your shelves.
God Only Knows What I’d be Without You (Beach Boys music from last scene in airport of “Love, Actually”)
Crush a little new peppermint; rejoice and be merry….despite all,