My office decided to do a secret santa this year for Christmas…well, sort of. Instead of gifts, our secret santa consisted of cookies. The rules were simple: The thirteen people that decided to participate had to bake two dozen cookies of their choice. Separate them into twelve bags. At the end of the day you would get twelve different bags of cookies from anonymous bakers, recipe included. I like the mystery of not knowing and getting to taste so many creations. Being a baker, I didn’t want to do something normal like chocolate chip or snowballs. Instead, I decided to try incorporate fresh, fall flavors with the classic shortbread characteristic of Christmas.
As it turns out, I have big ears and the people that participated could not stop talking about these. My cranberry orange almond shortbread cookies were a hit. Crumbly and flaky shortbread combined with the tartness of the cranberry, the crunchy aspect of the almonds, and a hint of sweetness from fresh orange zest. It was a warm, welcoming, friendly reminder that the holidays are in full swing.
I made a few variations to the recipe. The original calls for only 1 tablespoon of orange zest, but I felt that, in relation to all of the other ingredients, this wasn’t enough to stand out and compete with the other flavors. I upped the orange zest to 1 1/2 tablespoons.
In addition, the recipe calls for cranberries, so I used Ocean Spray Craisins. This added just a bit of sweetness to the cookies that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Don’t worry, it didn’t make the cookies overly sweet; they were a pain in the butt to chop though. Just a forewarning.
Very important change to note: the recipe doesn’t tell you to flip the cookies halfway through baking, but this is a MUST unless you want one side of your cookies to be completely brown and rock hard. Because shortbread cookies don’t have any kind of leavening agent, they don’t rise much. This also means that they soak up the heat on the bottom like a sponge but there isn’t much of a vehicle to carry that heat throughout the cookie; hence the bottom gets super dark. This is an easy fix. Just flip the cookie at about minute 8 or 9 and you will have perfectly evened browning. I included this change in the recipe below.
CRANBERRY ORANGE ALMOND SHORTBREAD:
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoon orange zest
- 2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
- 1/3 cup cranberries, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Mix butter, sugar, almond extract, and salt until smooth and well combined. Do not over beat.
- Gradually add flour and orange zest. Mix until a drought forms.
- Stir in almonds and cranberries with a spatula.
- Pat dough into a ball and then from into a log shape about 2-inches in diameter. (see below)
- Wrap dough in plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 1 hour.
- Slice into 1/4 inch thick slices when solid enough.
- Bake for about 15 minutes or just until edges turn golden brown. Flip over halfway through baking.
- Enjoy, and try not to eat them all.