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Holiday shortbread cookies

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

These shortbread cookies are made with simple ingredients, with endless options for your icing and toppings, and the shape of your cookies too. I'll share options for a marbled icing and for dying your actual dough. Whatever you choose, these cookies are perfect for the holiday season no matter what you celebrate!


The shortbread is made from five simple ingredients and though you can use a hand or stand mixer, there is no special equipment required. Make sure you give your butter time to come down to room temperature (a couple of hours is best) and you'll be ready to bake!


First you'll cream your butter and powdered sugar together. Then you'll mix in your vanilla extract. For this recipe, I like to use clear vanilla extract if I have it on hand, but otherwise regular vanilla extract works great. Then in two batches you'll fold in your flour and salt, and your dough is ready.


No matter what shape you choose, there is no need to roll out your dough. The two variations I'll share are a triangle option (which are fun to make look like Christmas trees) and a circular option where you can color the dough (I chose to do Hanukkah colors for this variation).


For our fun Christmas tree design, you'll use a 9x9 square pan so there is no rolling of the dough needed. You'll press the dough into the pan, chill for about an hour, and then use a sharp knife to cut your shapes - I did three rows of triangles! After they bake for about 45-50 minutes, you'll cut the lines again and then allow your cookies to cool before icing and decorating them.


For the marbled icing, I used a gel food coloring. After you mix your icing together, swirl on the gel food coloring and then you can use a knife or toothpick to swirl the color through the icing to make a marbled effect (see the picture below). You can do this however you'd like - baker's choice - and you can also choose to do a solid colored icing instead, or to keep it white using no food coloring at all! If you want to use sprinkles to decorate, be sure to have them ready to go because the icing will set quickly on your cookies.


To color your dough and make circular cookies, I like this option for Hanukkah decorations, you'll divide your dough into three sections. This doesn't have to be exact, but to take the guessing out of it I like to weigh my dough and divide it that way (it should be three sections of about 170 grams). You'll leave one section uncolored, and then you'll use blue gel food coloring, or your color of choice, making one section a light color and the other section a medium color. Onto plastic wrap or parchment paper using a spoon you'll add dollops of your different colored dough to form a cookie dough log, about 10 inches long. Wrap your cookie dough and press it in so it forms together and place in the fridge for at least an hour. Then, you'll slice into 16 circles and bake for about 40 minutes. Once your cookies are cooled you can use the same icing and it's completely baker's choice to use food coloring for your icing.



These are a great bake ahead cookie recipe for the holidays since they'll stay fresh for quite a while. I also love the simple buttery and vanilla forward flavor of these cookies - something everyone will love. I haven't tried this recipe with a gluten free flour alternative, but I've always had success using a 1 for 1 gluten free flour replacement for shortbread so it should work well with this recipe.


Ingredients:

Shortbread cookies

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter 226g

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar 60g

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract*

  • 2 cups all purpose flour 240g

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar 120g

  • 2-3 tablespoons milk (or water)

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract*

  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon almond extract


Additional decoration (optional)

  • Gel food coloring - green, blue or any other color!

  • Sprinkles

*I like to use clear vanilla extract for this recipe. If you have your standard vanilla extract, that will work great too!


Total time: About 4-5 hours including chill and setting time

Prep time: About 30 minutes

Bake time: 40-50 minutes

Chill time: 1-2 hours

Set time: 1 hour

Servings: 15 or 16 cookies


Equipment:

  • 9x9 square pan (or 8x8 and increase the bake time)

  • Parchment paper

  • Spatula & whisk

  • Sharp knife

  • Optional: hand or stand mixer, plastic wrap or parchment paper and cookie sheets (if making circular cookies)


Cooking instructions:

Make your cookies. In a large bowl, add your butter and powdered sugar. Use a spatula to fold your butter and sugar together until you no longer see any streaks of butter. Add in your vanilla extract, and continue to mix until fully combined.


Add in about half of your flour and your 1/4 teaspoon of salt and use your spatula to fold your dry ingredients in. Then, add in your remaining flour and slowly fold in until your dough forms.


To shape your dough you have two options:

  • For triangles, line a 9x9in square pan (or you can use an 8x8 pan and increase the cook time a bit) with parchment paper. Dollop your dough in and use a flat tool or even a spoon to spread flat and into the edges. Place the pan into the fridge to chill for an hour.

  • For circles, divide your dough into three even sections, about 170 grams each or feel free to estimate. Use your gel food coloring of choice to dye two of your sections to a light and medium color, folding the color in with a spatula. Then, use a spoon to add dollops of your different colored dough onto a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper to form a multi-colored cookie log, 10 inches long. Gently press together, wrap and place in the fridge to chill for an hour.


When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Remove your dough from the fridge and use a sharp knife to shape your dough:

  • For triangles, leaving the dough in the pan, cut three rows of triangles to look like Christmas trees (5 full triangles per row, cutting three rows and then marking every three inches on the long lines to have as a reference point), but this is baker's choice! To make the triangles like I did, take a look at the photo above for reference.

  • For circles, remove your dough log and slice into 16 even circles. I like to cut the log into quarters, and then cutting 4 slices per quarter. Place your dough slices onto a lined cookie sheet (or two). If your dough feels soft, place it back into the fridge for 30 minutes prior to baking.


Bake your cookies for 40 to 50 minutes until the top and edges are just barely golden. Circles tend to take closer to 40 minutes, and triangles closer to 50 minutes.


If you made triangles, use your sharp knife to slice the cookies again, and then let your cookies cool for about an hour.


Make your icing. Once your cookies have cooled completely, remove them from the pan and it's time to make your glaze.


In a small, wide bowl add in your powdered sugar. Then, add in one tablespoon of milk or water to start and your vanilla extract (and almond extract if you plan to use it). Begin to stir with a spoon and add in about half a tablespoon of milk at a time, continuing to stir until your icing is thick but pourable. Note that the glaze will thicken if left for too long, so be sure to keep moving to the next step once your glaze is made. If you need you can always add another teaspoon of liquid to loosen it. If you notice air bubbles, use a knife or toothpick to pop them.


If you're using a gel food coloring, swirl on your food coloring and then use a knife or toothpick to cut through and swirl the food coloring through to make a marbled design.

One cookie at a time, carefully dip the top of each cookie into your icing and pick up then set down to set. After every few cookies, you may need to add more coloring or take a swirl through the icing to keep your marbled design. The amount of icing should be just enough for the quantity of cookies, so you may need to use a spoon at the end to scoop the icing onto your last couple of cookies. If you plan to use sprinkles, note you'll want to do this quickly after adding your icing before it sets.


Allow your cookies to set and then enjoy!


These cookies will stay fresh for about 3 days at room temperature or about a week in the fridge. Because they're a shortbread cookie, you don't have to worry about the texture changing much especially in the first few days after being baked.


Carb and serving info:

Servings: 15 triangles***

Carbs per serving: 22***

Carbs for full recipe: 368


Servings: 16 circles

Carbs per serving: 23

Carbs for full recipe: 368


Carbs in cookies (no icing): 245

Carbs in icing: 124


***If you make the triangle shape like I did in a square pan, you'll have 6 half triangles to discard (or enjoy!) - the carbs per serving noted accounts for discarding the 6 half triangles (equal to 3 cookies). If you need to recalculate the carbs based on a different quantity, use the "carbs in full recipe" and divide by the number of cookies you make!


Note: Carb information is calculated based on the specific ingredients I used to cook with to help guide my own insulin to carb ratio when dosing before I eat my home cooked recipes.

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