Holiday baking and food-gift making went into high gear last week. I have gone through quite a few pounds of flour, butter, and chocolate! In other words, I've been in a happy place and having a lot of fun.
Let's talk about shortbread cookies. They truly get their moment in the spotlight at Christmastime. A lot of people tell me that shortbread is their favorite cookie and for some reason, I'm always a little surprised. But each time I eat it, I can see why. So this year, while I was trying to decide on the items to make for my homemade food gifts, I decided shortbread had to be on the roster.
I think the beautiful thing about shortbread is it's delicious at its most basic, in its very essence of butter and vanilla, but it's also a great canvas for lots of flavorings and customizations. I've wanted to make an almond and orange version from Martha Stewart for some time so I went ahead and did it.
In this case, the sandy, melt-in-your-mouth, shortbread is wrapped up in nutty almond slices and the perfume of fresh orange zest. It's the kind of simple flavor that appeals to me when I'm looking for an alternative to chocolate. That said, I also made last year's chocolate chip shortbread, which was too delectable to forget! With two options, I had my chocolate-loving and maybe not-so-chocolate-loving friends covered.
This almond-orange shortbread dough a cinch to make. It's a slice and bake type of cookie so once you shape the dough into its log, store it in the freezer until you need it, and you have ready-to-bake cookies on standby. I love how shortbread/icebox cookies are not only delicious but so flexible; you can make the dough well in advance and bake it when you need it. Plus, they keep well for a long time stored in an airtight container, making it perfect for gift-giving. So come Christmastime, it's definitely shortbread for the win!
I sometimes wonder why I don't make slice-and-bake cookies more often. In this case, shaping the dough into a rectangular log makes life even easier. I made and shaped the dough, then stored it in the freezer, wrapped in wax paper as well as plastic wrap.
I try to keep an eye on them so they don't brown too much. They go from lightly golden around the edges to brown pretty quickly.
For some reason, I love to take a look at the back of shortbread cookies. Instead of the smooth surface, you can see the sandy, crisp texture it promises to offer.
I packed up the majority of our shortbread cookies (these as well as the chocolate chip version) for gifts, saving a few to enjoy ourselves. They are so rich and lovely to savor at this time of year.
It's a luxury to be able to whip up homemade gifts and share them with some of our friends and neighbors. I hope you've been making or just enjoying some goodies this holiday season! I've been in the kitchen making a lot of favorites (recipes I've learned in the last few years) and trying a few new things, and it's been a great time. I've still got the all-important tri-color cookies to bake for my family this week and with that, this holiday and cookie-making factory will take a little hiatus. It's time to kick back and enjoy some lazy family time.
I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday!!
Adapted from Martha Stewart
- Makes about 40 cookies -
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
Zest of 1 orange (about 2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup sliced almonds
In a stand mixer, beat the butter, confectioners' sugar, almond and vanilla extracts, and salt together until smooth. On low-speed, add the flour and orange zest. Mix until a dough forms. Gently stir in the sliced almonds using a rubber spatula.
Scrape dough down onto a large piece of wax paper. Form it into a rectangular log, about 12 inches long, 2 1/2 inches wide, and 1 inch thick. Wrap the log in the paper and freeze until firm (at least 1 hour and up to 3 months). If freezing for longer than a day, wrap log again with plastic wrap.
To bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove dough from the freezer. If it has been in the freezer for a long time, let dough sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes so it will slice without crumbling.
Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/4 inch thick slices. Place onto baking sheet (ungreased is fine), about an inch or so apart. Bake until edges just begin to turn golden, 20-25 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then remove cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store fully cooled shortbread cookies in an airtight container, at room temperature.