For me, the Christmas Season begins when I buy my first Christmas cookie magazine of the year. Usually it is Martha Stewart or Canadian Living, but whatever it is, it results in me hauling out my large stack of past years’ Christmas cookie magazines and creating lists of what I’m going to bake this year. This list drafting usually takes me a few tries before I am satisfied with the selection: old favorites, new additions, chocolate, shortbread, dried fruit, nuts, something spicy… the criteria changes a bit every year. The staples for the last few years have been White Chocolate Cranberry Almond Biscotti, Chocolate and Black Pepper Cookies, Sparkly Ginger Cookies, and Lemon White Chocolate Pistachio Sandwich Cookies. Obviously, all this baking results in a profusion of Christmas cookies, which I package up and give to my family and friends as gifts. I figure it’s a win-win situation: I get to bake to my heart’s content, and they get to eat the fruits of my labour.
(Apparently it’s not as much of a win-win for those living with me during this baking mania. Both my roommate and my boyfriend have told me that it’s torture seeing and smelling all these cookies, and but not being allowed to eat any until the leftovers after I have divided them all up into cookie tins for gifting!)
This year, I tried two new shortbread recipes: Piped Coffee Kisses and Hazelnut Shortbread. OH MY GOODNESS were they ever good. This may sound odd, but the Coffee Kisses made my hair smell like coffee and cookies, which was delicious. The Hazelnut Shortbread was crumbly, flavourful, and not too sweet. I think they will both make the list for next year!
One thing to note about shortbread: because it is basically just butter, flour, and sugar, the quality of ingredients makes a big different to the finished product’s taste. For this reason it is important to use real, unsalted butter (unsalted so that you can control the amount of salt in the recipe). The temptation to use margarine is there, but don’t do it! The flavour will be SO much better with butter. And if these are only special occasion cookies then you don’t have to feel guilty about the amount of butter!
Piped Coffee Kisses
(from Canadian Living, December 2010, pg 224, also available here)
This dough is best made with an electric or stand mixer to get the airy texture needed for piping.
1 cup unsalted butter, very soft (but not melted)
2/3 cup icing sugar
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
Garnish: coffee beans
Preheat oven to 325˚ F. Beat butter with icing sugar until fluffy. Dissolve the espresso powder in the vanilla and add to the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the flour and salt.
Spoon dough into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch star tip and pipe cookies, 2 inches apart, onto parchment paper-lined cookies sheets. The cookies should be fairly small, about the size of a twoonie. (If you don’t have a piping bag, you could drop the dough by scant teaspoonfuls instead.) Garnish the top of each cookie with a coffee bean (I used a small silver nonpareil ball instead).
Bake until golden on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Enjoy the heavenly fragrance coming from your oven. Transfer to a rack and cool completely.
The original recipe says it yields 60 cookies, but I didn’t get that many (I think my cookies were on the large side).
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Recipe for Hazelnut Shortbread forthcoming in Part II!