Christmas Eve, and I’m in my usual pre-party panic. Guests arriving in just a few hours and my lengthy list of to-do desserts is dwindling into what I think I can accomplish is the remaining time. Mama’s Little Baby (aka Lauren) to the rescue, coming home a bit early from her Christmas stops is just in time to put together a batch of Shortbread Cookies for me.
I immediately begin to relax, knowing that my accomplished sous chef is in charge of the cookies. (So relaxed, in fact, I begin singing the Shortbread song…) It’s not that I had a specific recipe in mind for the shortbread cookies, but surely I could lay my hands on one in my wide array of cookbooks. I tried three books before I found something that I thought would work. King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion was my guide as I thumbed through multiple recipes to land on one that we could adapt for this evening.
So, the dessert selection wasn’t too shabby. Not exactly what I had in mind when I designed the menu of two cakes, three cookies, candies, etc. But Oatmeal cookie wedges, Chocolate Cake with Orange Butter cream and Chocolate Ganache, Truffles, and these Shortbread Cookies seem to be enough to satisfy everyone.
I rarely get a chance to bake enough cookies during the holidays and January is usually when I try to make up for that. Since Christmas, we have already managed to bake up a batch of Martha Stewart’s Outrageous Chocolate Cookies, but I still need some Thumbprints with blackberry jam and Coconut Macaroons. These shortbreads will be a repeat performer, and I hope you’ll like them too.
What makes a shortbread cookie ‘shortbread’? Well, it’s the fat content. High fat content, such as in biscuits, pie crust and shortbread cookies, ‘shortens’ the gluten strands and prevents the item from getting tough or chewy.
What makes a shortbread cookie an easy, last minute choice for a baker in a rush? Simple, always on hand ingredients – nothing fancy or peculiar. If you don’t have the coarse ground sugar on hand, just use granulated sugar, colored sanding sugar, or skip this step. The cookies are improved by the extra crunch of the coarse sugar, but it’s really not a necessity. These cookies would be great to cut into ‘fingers’ and use as dippers into chocolate fondue – decadent!
Christmas Eve Shortbread Cookies
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 generous teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/3 cups (10 ounces)unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 Tbls (or more) coarse Bourbon Vanilla Sugar (Demerara Sugar or Sugar in the Raw are good substitutes)
Heat oven to 300 degrees. In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter, granulated sugar and vanilla. While the butter and sugar are mixing, whisk the flour and salt together in a separate bowl. Once the sugar and butter are fluffy, mix in the flour and salt until thoroughly combined.
Press the mixture into an 8″ square baking pan or a 9″ round cake pan. Since the air that has been whipped into the cookie dough will provide space for steam to help ‘rise’ these cookies, handle the dough minimally and gently press into the pan. Sprinkle generously with the coarse sugar, and press the sugar down lightly, helping it adhere to the dough. Bake for 30-45 minutes, the center will be puffed and the edges golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 5 minutes.
Using a bench knife or other flat blade, cut the shortbreads into squares or wedges and allow to cool completely in the pan.