For the third year in a row, I’ve participated in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, created by fellow food bloggers Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen. This means I agree to mail a dozen cookies each to three different food bloggers and receive a dozen cookies each from three other food bloggers. The participating bloggers are from around the country and also from several destinations internationally. This year, there was a $4 entry fee which benefits COOKIES FOR KIDS’ CANCER, a national non-profit organization committed to funding new therapies used in the fight against pediatric cancer, which claims the lives of more children in the US than any other disease. Between the entry fee, matches from participating brand sponsors including Oxo and others, and other donations, we raised more than $13,000!! Pretty awesome, if you ask me.
This year, I decided to tap a friend for recipe inspiration. Audrey Auld is an accomplished singer songwriter who lives here in Nashville, though she’s originally from Tasmania. Through her Aussie roots, she’s introduced me to a number of new recipes and foods including Christmas Pudding, which is actually like a really dense and really delicious fruit cake, and Anzac Cookies, which have a toasty, unique flavor thanks to the Golden Syrup in them, an Australian product that’s kind of like our molasses. She also makes these incredible shortbread cookies, and that’s the recipe I had my eye on for this year. Here’s a pic of us cooking. Don’t we look adorable?!
A few weeks ago I invited myself to Audrey’s house to learn the shortbread recipe. Shortbread is originally Scottish, and since Audrey’s roots are Australian, there are many UK-influenced recipes in her background. She remembers her Grandmother making this recipe when she was young. It’s really quite simple in its composition (it’s just sugar, butter and flour); the trick is getting the texture right. The recipe is all about feel, and that’s what I wanted to learn from Audrey.
First you cream the butter and sugar. I’ve learned recently that when recipes call for this step, it’s really important that you cream the heck out of that butter and sugar. You’ll whip in air which will give the cookies lift during baking. Audrey and I creamed our mixture for 25 minutes or so. In the end it had even turned a lighter color, so we knew it was done.
Next, we added about 2 1/2 cups of flour to the mixer to work in. The recipe calls for about 3 3/4 total so once we were done with the mixer, we kneaded in the remaining flour for about 5 minutes on the countertop. When it’s done, it shouldn’t be sticky at all, but smooth and pliable.
Next, roll out your dough. It should be about 1/4-inch thick. Don’t make it too thin.
We used all manner of festive holiday cookie cutters to cut out the shapes. It was glorious! Really got me in the mood for Christmas. One of the most important steps is pricking the cut-out cookies with a fork. This has something to do with air flow during baking. All I know is that the tine marks must be done evenly and in a way that makes sense because you’ll see them in the finished product, so we added buttons to the angels and ornaments to the Christmas trees.
You can see from this picture how thick these are. That’s a key element so they don’t burn.
Once they’re done baking, they’ll just barely be browned on the bottom. Don’t overbake or they’ll be tough, and don’t underbake or they won’t have that great color and will look kind of anemic.
The whole process was so much fun. I loved learning a recipe from a friend! While they were baking, she served me squash soup and a glass of wine, and we caught up. Now that’s a fine afternoon. Thanks Audrey!
The next weekend I picked up my Christmas tree with my husband and we went home and decorated. With carols blaring, I attempted to make these myself for the cookie swap. It was so festive! Here’s my freshly cut tree.
I have a Meyer Lemon tree, and love incorporating the lemons into my cooking this time of year. So I added the zest of two Meyer lemons to the batter which gave the cookies a citrusy kick. Audrey also typically uses salted butter, but I had unsalted to I added a bit of salt in. I also didn’t cut out my cookies with cookie cutters in part because I didn’t want them to break during shipping. I also realized I don’t have ANY cookie cutters! (Hint: Mom – I could use some for Christmas!) Instead, I rolled the batter into balls, then pressed them down on the cookie sheet with my thumb to flatten them slightly, making sure they didn’t get too thin. I don’t think I used quite enough flour in my version as they spread out quite a bit. They were still tasty, though.
Once they were cool, I wrapped them up and shipped them off.
What a great day! Thanks, too, to the brand sponsors of this year’s Cookie Swap, Oxo, Dixie Crystals, Gold Medal Flour, and Grandma’s Molasses. Hmm…what to make next year?
Lemon Shortbread Cookies
Yield: 36 cookies
The key to these cookies is texture. Make sure you add enough flour so the cookies have body. Otherwise the butter in them will cause them to spread out and lose their shape. Beyond lemon zest, add rosemary, black pepper, lavender, cinnamon - any flavor you want! Or just enjoy them plain.
2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks) at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
zest of 2 lemons
4 1/2 cups flour, divided
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer well, until light and fluffy and slightly lightened in color, 20-25 minutes.
Add salt and zest, then add about 2 1/2 cups flour. Mix in stand mixer until just combined. Sprinkle another cup of flour on the counter or a board and work in to dough by hand. Add remaining cup of flour as needed until desired consistency is achieved. Dough should be smooth, yet pliable and not sticky. When poked with a fork, holes should keep their shape.
Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes and place on rimmed baking sheet. Prick with fork tines in at least one place. No need to grease cookies sheets due to butter content in cookies. (!)
Bake 20-25 minutes, until bottoms are slightly browned. Let cool on baking racks.