Christmas Special: Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread and Gingerbread Men

So, I think it's about time for an update, don't you?

There was no way I could let the holiday season go by without a few festive food posts. Christmas is, after all, the most gluttonous of holidays. What other occasion encourages consecutive weeks of marathon eating? Besides that warm fuzzy feeling you get at this time of year, the abundance of great food and company make this my absolute favorite holiday.

I decided to fully embrace the holiday spirit today. So, after lighting the fireplace and blasting the carols, I did a little Christmas baking. The results: Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread, gingerbread cookies, and a house headily perfumed with spice.

These shortbread are cheerfully festive cookies. Shortbread is originally a Scottish Christmas cookie, but today its rich, crumbly, butteriness makes it a popular year-round treat. These boast that iconic red and green, which is happily achieved free of food coloring or cloyingly sweet candied cherries. These mildly sweet cookies are studded with bright ruby red cranberries and pale green pistachios for a treat that is at once tender and crunchy and chewy.

However, these shortbread only make up half of the quintessential Christmas dessert duo of fruity and spicy. The latter half is taken care of by the classic gingerbread cookie. This is my favorite recipe and I have used it for many years. As strange as it may sound, the dough has a beautiful texture to work with, even cold out of the refrigerator. The molasses keeps it soft and pliable and very easy to work with. After it bakes, it retains its chewiness while the edges crisp up. I suppose somewhat non-traditionally, I like to add a little finely ground black pepper to the dough. It imparts an extra kick of heat to bring out the spice, rather than a savory quality. The flavor improves the longer your store them (if they last that long).

(A tip for making gingerbread men: In order to make sure your shapes stay recognizable, it is advisable to chill them on the sheet pan before you bake them. It prevents them from melting into amoeboid blobs.)

This is the just the beginning of my Christmas cooking marathon. I actually need to return to the kitchen now to prepare tonight's big feast, so stay tuned for more on that.

And finally, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May it be filled with fun, loved ones, and of course, fantastic food!

Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread

Yield: about 48 cookies

2 1/3 cups(300 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated white sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup (130 grams) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

1 cup (150 grams) dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

In a large bowl whisk the flour with the salt.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth (about 1 - 2 minutes). 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 throughout the dough.)

Divide the dough in half. Place each half of dough on the center of a 14 inch (35 cm) length of parchment or wax paper. Smooth and shape the dough into an evenly shaped rectangle that is about 10 inches (25 cm) long and 2 inches (5 cm) wide. Then thoroughly wrap the shaped logs in the parchment or wax paper, twists the ends of the paper to seal the logs, and 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 defrost the logs in the refrigerator overnight before slicing and baking.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C) with the rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a thin bladed knife, slice the logs into 1/4 to 1/2 inch (.5 to 1 cm) thick cookies. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches (5 cm) 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 shortbread cookies.

Perfect Gingerbread Cookies

Yield: about 2 dozen

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg yolk
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in molasses and egg yolk. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and black pepper. Stir into the butter mixture until smooth. Gather into a ball, flatten, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm at the edges. Cool for 5 minutes on the pan. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.

Images property of beets and bites
Shortbread recipe from joyofbaking.com

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