As we make our way through ‘cookie’ month on Food for Fridays, we’re hitting what are, for me, the highlights of flavours for the holiday season. And while technically speaking shortbreads can be eaten at any time of year, they seem to be a critical cookie around this time of year. The joy of the shortbread often lies in its elegant simplicity. However, since we only get to talk about 4 cookies this month, I wanted to get a bit extra out of our shortbread post. By ‘extra’, I mean a little extra holiday flavour and colour. This is how I arrived at the cranberry pistachio shortbreads for today. When I was younger, my Mum used to make ice box cookies that were studded with red and green artificially coloured, candied cherries. These cookies are a nod to that childhood favourite but are, of course, their more delicious, more delicate, dare I say, more mature cookie cousins. In fact, I’m not sure what would distinguish these shortbread from an icebox cookie. In my own family nomenclature, we tend to use the biscuit method for shortbreads (keep the butter cold and cut it into the flour). Cookies made by creaming the butter and sugar that are chilled and then sliced prior to baking would be called ‘icebox’. That’s just how we do things around here.
It doesn’t matter anyway, since the sweet cranberry with salty pistachios are perfect together, so everyone’s mouths will be too full of cookie to ask why they’re called what they are. Nearly the opposite in character of last week’s chocolate overload they are simply: not too sweet; buttery; good. You can jazz them up even further, if you choose, by layering on more holiday flavours, like orange, cinnamon, cardamom but I’ve chosen not to. I think its really just about personal taste. I like to not crowd the cookie with too many flavours but to let just a few items really shine. In these cookies, I enjoy keeping it simple. The other thing is, well, I make a lot of cookies. I save the orange cardamom flavours for another cookie (spritz, to be specific).
2 1/3 cups (300 g) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup (2 sticks) (226g) butter
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp water
In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the salt. In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until smooth and creamy (about 3 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Fold in the chopped pistachios and dried cranberries. Make sure that the nuts and cranberries are evenly distributed. It’s ok if the dough is entirely crumbly at this point. Give the dough a squeeze and see how it comes together. As long as it forms a dough with gentle pressure, then you’re all set.
Divide the dough in half. Place each half of dough on the centre of a 14 inch length of parchment or wax paper. Smooth and shape the dough into an evenly shaped log that is about 10 inches long and 2 inches wide. Thoroughly wrap the shaped longs in the parchment or wax paper, twist the ends of the paper to seal the logs. Press four sides of the log against a cutting board or counter to flatten them so that the log is not rounded but rectangular. Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours or up to three days. The logs can also be frozen for about two months. If freezing, it is best to also wrap in plastic wrap and then defrost the logs in the refrigerator overnight before slicing and baking.
Preheat oven to 325 with the rack in the centre of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Add the water to the egg and stir to combine. Remove the cookie log from the refrigerator and brush all over with egg wash. Sprinkle the coarse sugar over all sides of the cookie dough log or roll the log in the sugar.
Using a thin bladed knife (not your best chef’s knife but really as thin a blade as you have or a dough scraper), slice the logs into 1/4 or 1/2 inch slices, rotating the log a quarter turn with each slice. You can see my technique for reducing crumbling in the photo that my ‘assistant’ took (my ‘assistant’ can be seen in shots at the bottom of the page, eating the coarse sugar). When you’re slicing, if the cookies are breaking or crumbling, let them warm up just a little bit and then continue cutting. Using your other hand on the dough with a bit of pressure can also help. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet, spaced about 1 inch apart. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the cookies are just beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
Makes about 48 cookies. Recipe is easily doubled.
** 3 Tips for Baking Holiday Cookies **
Chill Doughs before handling. When you can, cool your dough in the refrigerator (even if they aren’t icebox cookies) before rolling, cutting, shaping, or slicing. Cookie sheets that are getting ready for their second batch of cookies can be cooled with water before placing the next batch of cookies.
Get an oven thermometer. It’s always better to know what your oven temperature is and how to adjust it.
Under bake don’t over bake. Bake them when the thermometer reaches the right temperature for as long as the recipe recommends but keep a close eye on the first batch. You can even set the timer to go off 2-3 minutes earlier to catch them when they’re actually done baking. Cookies shouldn’t be more than even a little golden brown. Allow the cookies to finish their baking, cool and firm up slightly on the cookie sheet before you move them to the cooling rack.