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Dorothy Dean: Shortbread – simple, rich, satisfying – offers a blank, buttery canvas for all sorts of flavors

Cranberry orange shortbread cookies. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Cranberry orange shortbread cookies. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)

If you’re out of eggs but have butter and are craving cookies, shortbread – simple, satisfying, rich – is the remedy.

Butter is the binder.

And the dough provides a blank canvas.

Sure, you could keep them plain. They are lovely that way. They’re also lovely dipped in melted chocolate or added on to – for texture and flavor.

These shortbread cookies include orange zest and chopped cranberries. But the base could also be livened up with all sorts of options.

Lemon zest and lavender, chopped dried cherries and chocolate chunks, crushed peppermint candies, toasted shredded coconut and lime zest, lemon zest and poppy seeds, lemon zest and chopped fresh rosemary or thyme, toasted slivered almonds and almond extract, chopped candied ginger.

Variations are almost endless and can be tailored to the season and personal taste.

Cranberry-Orange Shortbread Cookies

1/2 cup dried cranberries

3/4 cups powdered sugar, divided

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup butter, cold and cubed

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Zest of 1 orange

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

Sugar, for sprinkling

Combine cranberries and 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the cranberries appear finely chopped. Set aside.

Combine flour and remaining sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter with your hands until you have a fine crumb. Add in cranberry mixture then liquids. Knead dough until it comes together and forms a ball, then shape it into a log, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut slices of cookie dough about 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle on – then gently pat down – sugar. Place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Let cool completely.

Yield: about 2 dozen

Note: If you’re in a hurry and don’t mind the chunkier texture, you can skip processing the cranberries and just add them whole into the dough like I did. But don’t skimp on refrigeration time. I was impatient and didn’t refrigerate the dough long enough – and it showed in the final product.