“I am sorry I ruined your life and that I crammed eleven cookies into the VCR .”
-Buddy the Elf
Christmas is 11 short days away. It was September and then I blinked and now it is December 14th. With just over a week left and several shifts standing between me and a Christmas break, I have practically no time to bake.
Growing up, Christmas baking revolved around shortbread. Sure, my mom had many different sweets in her Christmas baking repertoire but to me, shortbread cookies were always the star. Maybe it’s because they were only baked at Christmas. Maybe it’s because she baked them early and froze them (they freeze remarkably well) or it could be because she had to bake another batch every single year because we ate them right out of the freezer (they are also remarkably delicious frozen). Maybe it’s because we were allowed to help or it could be because were allowed to eat the browned edges once they were trimmed (one of the best tastes in the world, second to my nanny giving us a small piece of potato with butter and salt to “test” if they were cooked). It could be a culmination of all of the above but I still have lost no love for the simple, three ingredient cookie. In actuality, I have all the love for shortbread.
A quickie WIKI search tells me that shortbread has been around since the 12th century. Mary, Queen of Scots was a big fan, perfecting the simple combination of sugar, butter and flour by seasoning it with vanilla and caraway. As it is traditionally made with loads of butter (and butter is expensive), shortbread was generally a sweet reserved for the wealthy and for special occasions like Christmas and wedding celebrations. Over the years the cookie has remained popular and has evolved into many different varieties; some using powdered sugar, some iced, some whipped and all resulting in a very popular traditional cookie.
My favourite version is my mom’s traditional Scottish shortbread. This is a dense, slightly crumbly, slightly chewy cookie that is sprinkled with sugar and baked on a sheet, later to be cut into fingers. Delicious, and time consuming. I would share the recipe but I would have to kill you (I kid. But no, I am still not sharing).
My second favourite would be a whipped shortbread cookie. Getting back to the first paragraph of this crazy cookie spiel, these are easy to make and they take little, to no time. In turn making them the perfect cookie for the time-crunching Christmas baker. You can get fancy and use a piping bag, or even fancier and use a cookie press but I prefer them as they are in their natural state. A basic, spoon dropped cookie with half of a red or green glacé cherry pushed into the middle. I am a lover of tradition, I can’t help myself. The difference between whipped and regular short bread is the substitution of icing (or powdered) sugar for the traditional granulated sugar. They are also whipped within an inch of their life making the dough airy and light. This results in a sweet cookie that melts in your mouth. Only downside is they are crumbly, so handle them with care ! Some people add cornstarch as well. This makes them even more “melt-y”; there is a great debate as to what makes a better cookie. You can decide that for yourself! All of you time stressed bakers can find my recipe below ! Happy baking and happy tradition making!
Whipped Shortbread Cookies
Preheat oven to 300.
You will need..
-one pound of butter
-3 cups of all purpose flour
-one cup of icing sugar
-**optional 1/2 cup of cornstarch
-sprinkle of salt
-teaspoon of good vanilla
-**optional red and green glacé cherries (or maraschino, just dry ’em off)
In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and add sugar and continue to cream until pale and fluffy. If you are using cornstarch, mix cornstarch into flour. Add flour (or flour cornstarch mix) to bowl along with vanilla and sprinkle of salt. Whip on high for ten minutes with a hand mixer or the paddle attachment to your stand mixer. It will not look like much at first but as it whips it will become light and airy! Drop with teaspoon onto an un-greased cookie sheet and top with half of a cherry. You can also pipe the cookies onto the sheet or use a cookie press. Your call- dropping is fast! Bake for 15-20 minutes until the bottoms are just very slightly browned at the edges. Enjoy with milk, coffee or tea- whatever your vice is. I am told Santa really enjoys these, as do coworkers, neighbours and party attendees.