By Abigail Johnson Dodge
Fine Cooking #114, pp.66-69
Like most folks, I have a go-to list of tried-and-true cookies that I bake and give around the holidays. The usual suspects, like ginger-molasses cookies, meringues, and biscotti, make an appearance, and although I’d like to think they’re all favorites, I have to say that my shortbread cookies are really the best. I’ve loved shortbread cookies since I was little, when my mother would serve them with tea. Crumbly, tender, and moist, they’d practically melt in my mouth. Then, as now, I was captivated by their flavor—so buttery and full of vanilla—and intrigued by their delicate balance of sugar and salt.
Flavor and texture aside, I also like shortbread cookies because they’re so easy to make, and since they taste even better a day or two after baking, they’re perfect for gift giving. Best of all, they’re endlessly versatile.
You can vary their shape, dip them in chocolate, or add flavorings like ginger, cinnamon, espresso, lemon, or cardamom. No matter your preference, there’s no better way to say “Happy Holidays.”
|Step 1 Mix the dough until it begins to form moist clumps. Any more than this will toughen the dough and make the cookies less tender.||Step 2 Pressing the dough into an even layer ensures that the cookies bake evenly and are uniformly golden-brown on top. Reflour your fingers as needed to keep the dough from sticking to them.|
|Step 3 Use an 8-row by 5-column grid pattern to divide the dough into 40 bars. Each should be about 1 inch by 2-1/2 inches, but it’s fine if they’re not all precisely the same.||Step 4 Prick the dough with a fork, spacing the holes evenly and on the diagonal. Not only does this give the cookies a traditional look but it also helps them bake evenly.|
|Step 5 Don’t wait to re-cut the cookies after baking. If they cool too much, they won’t cut cleanly and may even crumble.|
|Shortbread cookies are delicious on their own, but an optional chocolate dip takes them over the top. Here’s how to do it:
In a small, deep, heatproof bowl set in a skillet with about an inch of barely simmering water, combine 6oz. chopped bittersweet or white chocolat e and 1tsp. canola or vegetable oil and stir until melted, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp. finely grated orange zest, if you like, and stir until combined. Brush any loose crumbs from the cooled shortbread and dip two-thirds of each cookie into the chocolate. Dry on a cooling rack until the chocolate firms up, about 45 minutes.
|Vanilla Shortbread Cookies||Cardamom Shortbread Cookies
|Double Ginger Shortbread Cookies
||Cinnamon Toast Shortbread Cookies
|Lemon Shortbread Cookies
||Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
Fun Fact: Bread in Name Only
Shortbread dates back to medieval Scotland and was originally a sweet yeast-based biscuit. To avoid paying the taxes that were levied on biscuits at the time, Scottish bakers classified their yeasted biscuits as “bread.” Eventually, the yeast was replaced by butter, and today’s version of shortbread was born. The “short” in shortbread is a reference to its texture. These cookies have a high ratio of butter to flour and a low moisture content, which inhibits the development of gluten in the dough and keeps the cookies tender and crumbly—a texture known as “short.”
Photos: Scott Phillips