I love Christmas time and I love all the special events leading up to the big day. Of course, that includes the annual cookie exchange. I look forward every year to see (and eat) what everyone has created. And, of course, I look forward to dreaming up something new to create myself. This year, I went with shortbread. Though, not new, I don’t think any cookie screams “Christmas” louder than shortbread, which, given it’s history, makes sense.
Starting back in medieval Scotland, shortbread actually begins with “biscuit bread”. The term “biscuit” means twice baked and biscuit bread was essentially that. Made using leftover bread dough, then dusted with sugar and spices, it was then baked in a low oven until it hardened. Overtime, the yeast was replaced with butter and shortbread was born.
Although, shortbread dates back to the 12th century, it’s refinement is attributed to Mary Queen of Scots, who is said to have enjoyed Petticoat tails, a type of shortbread seasoned with caraway seeds. An expensive luxury for most, shortbread was often only served during special occasions like Christmas and Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve).
Traditionally, shortbread was made using 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour, but has evolved through the centuries to include rice flour, which gives it a more crumbly texture, or cornstarch, with gives a more dense texture.
The base recipe I use comes from my Grandma. It’s close to the traditional version, though uses icing sugar and a little extra flour, with just a touch of vanilla for flavour. To that I’ve added some toffee bits and iced it with another Christmas staple, eggnog. It’s super easy to make and it’s always a hit.
What are your go-to cookies to make at Christmas?
2 Cups butter, softened
1 Cup icing sugar
3 1/2 Cups all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 Cup toffee bits
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
Whip together the butter and icing sugar. Add the vanilla and 1 cup of the flour and mix well. Continue adding the flour in 1 cup increments until it’s all combined, then mix in the toffee bits.
Roll the dough into 1″ balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes until lightly golden on the bottom. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
1/2 Cup butter
1 1/2 Cups icing sugar (may need a little more)
2 tbsp eggnog
1/8 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
Whip together all ingredients, adjusting the quantity of icing sugar slightly, if needed, until the icing is at the desired consistency (If you want to spread the icing, you may need to add a little more icing sugar to make the icing thicker. If you prefer to drizzle the icing, a little less icing sugar to make the icing thinner). Place the icing in a piping bag and, once the cookies have completely cooled, drizzle away.