Alexa, play Christmas music. Besides five simple ingredients, that’s all that’s needed to set the mood for the most delicious time of the year. Christmas has me merrily baking and cooking away, and decorating cookies for Santa – well, three for Santa and the rest for ourselves – is a family tradition.
What makes this shortbread recipe my absolute favorite for that, besides its rich and buttery flavor, is how well the cookies hold their shape. The finished product has sharp, defined edges, perfectly holding their cookie cutter form. A secret to that is chilling the dough. You want to firm up the butter because warm butter makes the cookies spread.
This simple dough made with flour, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt finishes quickly before being rolled out (for easier rolling, divide the dough in half, or thirds, and do it in batches), cut with cookie cutters and chilled. They bake for about 14 minutes or just until the edges start to brown.
With their slightly crisp borders and smooth, flat surface, they’re the prime canvas for decorating. Though I must say, with their hint of vanilla flavor and dense but light texture, they’re unbelievably tasty on their own.
Cooled cookies can be decorated with icings, sprinkles and candies, dipped in chocolate or even filled with jams. Wrap them in a box or load them in a tin, and make the holidays even sweeter, as they are delectable gifts for loved ones.
Shortbread Cutout Cookies
Adapted from foodnetwork.com.
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Icing and sprinkles for decorating
Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
Sift together the flour and salt in a medium bowl, then set aside.
Add the butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed.
Add in the vanilla. Turn the mixer to low speed and add in the flour mixture. Mix until the dough just comes together.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll to a 1/2-inch thickness. Dip desired cookie cutters into the flour, cut out shapes, and, with a thin spatula, transfer them to the prepared baking sheets.
Reroll the scraps. Repeat. Place the baking sheets with uncooked cookies in a refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. This will firm up the dough so that the cookies hold their shape. Rolled and cut shortbread cookies can be stored in a refrigerator, covered, for as long as three days before baking.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes, until they’re just starting to turn pale golden brown on the edges.
Allow them to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.
Audrey Alfaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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