I believe it is never too late to start getting ready for Christmas. Why not make a double batch of these delicious cookies and have them at-the-ready in your freezer? When impromptu guests arrive or an unexpected gift is in order, you (and your friends) will be thankful for your very smart thinking.
One of my strategies is to pick up gifts all year round when I see them on sale. The hardest part for me is waiting until Christmas to give them to my family and friends.
I also bake a few things to have around the farm when the very busy season gets started. I like to have cookies in the freezer to pull out in an emergency. I find that most people’s lives get so full of seasonal activities it is hard to find that quiet spot to bake some of your favourite Christmas cookies. Christmas cookies are usually time consuming and that is what makes them so special. Every family has its own tradition.
In my family, Christmas is Cookie time. I have been baking for Christmas for many years and one of my family’s favourite cookies are Classic Shortbread. Who doesn't love shortbread?
When I was a young girl, I was lucky enough to have my British godmother teach me how to make shortbread. Her dough was perfect, Clara never wasted a scrap, and she cut out her cookies meticulously with her special cookie cutter. Clara topped all of her cookies off with pieces of glacéed red and green cherries. I loved the green ones. Christmas is a time when we use ingredients we never use at any other time of year. I can’t recall the last time I saw anyone buy citron or glacéed fruits. No one seems to make plum pudding or Christmas cake anymore.
Yes, I know that one piece of cake has been doing the re-gifting circuit for years.
I am sharing with you my family’s favourite Shortbread Cookie
Lots of shortbread recipes are out there and over the years I have tried all of them including a recipe that calls for toasting the flour first. This is the recipe that I love above all others. I use an electric mixer, but if you like you can do this by hand in a bowl. Just make sure that your butter is soft.
Hint # 1
You need FRESH ingredients – there are few ingredients in the recipe so they all need to be fresh.
The real trick is to use the very best pure vanilla that you can find. Make your own – it is easy and far cheaper. I simply combine pure alcohol – I prefer rum or vodka – you can choose one you have on hand. I place 2 fresh vanilla beans in a small jar and cover with alcohol and let it sit for a few days. I shake it when I remember to distribute the vanilla seed. I also store vanilla beans in my sugar jar.
Chilling the cookie dough for 30 minutes makes it easier to roll out.
Roll the cookies more thinly than you think you should or how you have in the past. These cookies are rich and crispy.
You can use whatever cookie cutter you have on hand – a small glass jar worked for me for years. My suggestion is that you do not use a cookie cutter that is complicated with lots of points where the dough can get stuck. Those cutters are for the more workable sugar cookies.
If you are baking these cookies ahead, decorate with chocolate after you bring them out of the freezer.
They store well at room temperature in a tin cookie tin – yes, I insist on that. Nothing else keeps them as crisp. Use good old-fashioned wax paper to line the bottom, to create layers and to fold on top.
Farm House Classic Shortbread Cookies
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 24 to 36 cookies
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (almond is delicious as well)
3 3/4 to 4 cups unbleached all purpose flour (you will require flour for kneading)
1/4 teaspoon salt
White sugar or sanding sugar
4 to 6 ounces of high quality chocolate, finely chopped (semi sweet works best)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla.
In a medium bowl, sift together 3 3/4 cups flour and the salt; then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Remove dough from bowl and place onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic or wax paper and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a 3-by-1-inch finger-shaped cutter. You can use whatever size cookie cutter you have, however, baking time will vary. I use smaller cookie cutters: 1-to-1 1/2-inch fluted square or round cutters.
Place the cookies on a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Pierce each cookie three times with a sharp fork.
Hint: At this stage if you chill the rolled out dough for around 10 minutes, the cookie edges will be sharper after baking. But it is not necessary.
If desired, dust with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow the cookies to cool to room temperature.
This is where you can do whatever you want to the baked classic shortbread cookies.
After the cookies have cooled, I melt some high quality chocolate – it can be white, milk or dark – in the microwave for a few minutes. Watch this closely and stir often. I line a baking rack with parchment paper. I then take a fork, dip it into the chocolate and then run the fork all over the top of the cookie. You can also just dip half the cookie in the melted chocolate.
To melt the chocolate: Place half of the chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Stir with a wooden spoon. Continue to heat and stir in 30-second increments until the chocolate is just melted. Add the remaining chocolate and allow it to sit at room temperature, stirring often, until it's completely smooth. Stir vigorously until the chocolate is smooth and slightly cooled; stirring makes it glossier. This prevents scorching.
Drizzle 1/2 of each cookie with just enough chocolate to coat it.
Watch me on Chopped Canada, Season Two Episode Three.
And, see more of my adventures on my blog BuckysView.com.