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Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples -- or your seasonal produce -- every which way.
Today: We're kicking off our celebration of Cookie Week with Mandy Lee from Lady and Pups, who's revealing the cardinal rule for making customizable shortbread dough. Plus, she's sharing 5 ideas to help you get started.
Before embarking on a shortbread marathon, I'll be honest: I would've never considered this classic buttery cookie to be my go-to. My outdated impression of shortbread cookies was still centered around the cookie aisle of the local convenience stores and the mysteriously un-spoilable "Danish cookies" inside the round tin cans I grabbed from as a child. Growing up, I was too distracted by the flares of other softer, chewier cookies such as chocolate chips or giant oatmeal raisins to give these crumbly and dainty cookies much thought
But boy, was I wrong. Shortbread cookies are the simplest, fastest, and most versatile cookie I have ever tested in my kitchen. Unlike other cookie recipes that play dangerously with the delicate science of wet and dry ingredients, shortbread cookies have but one rule to abide by. This rule is that the ratio between butter/fat and dry ingredients/flour is 2:3 by weight.
That's it! Keep in mind that there are no "wet ingredients" in shortbread cookies. There is only the fat -- often butter, but you'll see that one of my recipe uses herbed duck fat as well -- and the dry ingredients, which are usually a combination of flours (all-purpose, whole-wheat, almond) and other pantry ingredients. After that, this "mother dough" can be flavored with any craziness your heart desires: sweetening agents like sugar, chocolate, or molasses; seasonings like salt and Parmesan cheese; or spices and zesty fragrances that might bring your shortbread cookies to uncharted territories.
And did I mention that this is one of the rare cookie recipes that can made with cold butter? Butter straight from the fridge can be whipped to the desired state of fluffiness and creaminess inside a food-processor in a fraction of the time it takes in a stand-mixer. Then, the flour can be added directly to the food processor, and you'll be able to form a dough in just a few pulses. It’s the perfect last-minute cookie option and the texture is extremely pliable, meaning that shortbread dough is ready to take on whatever form or shapes you'd like. Nicely wrapped inside parchment paper, this is the holiday gift sure to make your friends and families happy.
Here are five recipes to help you get started with making the perfect edible gifts:
Almond Shortbread Sandwich with Jasmine Icing
This super crumbly and buttery shortbread is made by substituting in ground almond flour for a portion of the all-purpose flour. To give these shortbreads more depth of flavor, use the type of ground almond flour (Asian or European ground almond flour) that has the fragrance of almond extract. The shortbread dough is rolled thinly and the cookies are sandwiched with buttercream icing that's been scented with ground jasmine tea powder. Sweet and buttery with a subtle floral fragrance, these sandwich cookies will add a whiff of elegance to your next afternoon tea party.
More: Once you've polished those off, try topping shortbread with a layer of caramel and chocolate.
Herbed Duck Fat, Pepper, and Chili Flake Shortbread
The wonderful thing about shortbread cookies is that they can be made savory, and if you have a tub of duck, pork, or chicken fat (schmaltz) leftover from making confit or a roast, then you're in for a treat. These fats, infused with herbs and aromatics, will turn your shortbread into the stars of a fancy cheese platter. These cookies are made with a portion of herbed fat (the recipe will tell you how to render it if you don't have any leftover) in place of butter and flavored with a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese and pungent ground white pepper, plus they get a little kick from chili flakes. Your next block of creamy goat cheese needs these.
Super Chocolatey Shortbread Rings
These cookies aren't only flavored only with cocoa powder, but also with tons of finely grated dark chocolate, which gives them an intense and rich chocolate flavor. The grated chocolate melts into the dry ingredients so seamlessly that nobody will guess it's there. The hint of cinnamon in the background will make these cookies a winter staple among your friends and families. I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to wear one as a necklace throughout the holiday season.
Zesty Rye and Chocolate Snow Bars
If you've ever obsessed over Pepperidge Farm's orange Milano cookies, these are for you. The unsalted butter is first whipped and infused with orange zest, which permeates the entire shortbread dough with a citrus aroma. If you want, you can substitute the chocolate with a generous layer of any kind of fruit jam to make these "jammed" snow bars instead (no pun intended). These cookies are perfect for the lazy cook who has no time to cut out individual cookies and would rather shove a whole slab of dough into the oven and miraculously receive "cookies" on the other side. Since it's getting cold, these enormous snow bars should replace any boring energy bars you might carry around in your purse all the way 'til April (even May, in some parts of the world).
Lidded Baked Oatmeal with Spiced Ginger Shortbread
When you wake up to a world covered in white and the sound of Christmas jingles, what do you want to eat for breakfast? I can hardly think of anything more perfect than these gingerbread shortbread flavored with spices like ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and ground white pepper, sweetened with dark brown sugar and molasses, and twinkling with chocolate chips. You can make the dough the night before and chill it in the fridge so that all you have to do in the morning is cook a hot pot of salty, creamy oatmeal and seal it with a slab of dough. Bake it together in the oven for a breakfast that's crumbly, crispy, buttery, and sweet on top with a hot, thick, salty layer on the bottom. I'd say that you should be patient to avoid burning your tongue, but I shouldn't give advice that I can't follow myself.
13 tablespoons (180 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (95 grams) dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons (30 grams) molasses
2 cups (270 grams) all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (75 grams) chopped semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups (180 grams) quick oats
2 cups (500 grams) whole milk
2 cups (500 grams) water
4 tablespoons (60 grams) light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
Photos by Mandy Lee