Christmas shortbread is the classic British biscuit you know and love with a twist of holiday spice and tea flavors! Cozy and warm with hints of orange, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, it's an easy cookie recipe for the holiday season.
Christmas Shortbread Cookies
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When I discovered the Downton Abbey DVD was being released right around Christmas, I thought it was a match made in heaven. It had me thinking back to all those holiday specials, all the costumes, and all the characters I had spent years growing to love. Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle) is stunning any time of year, but it's simply magical at Christmas time.
The DVD is an expansion from the series, and doesn't have a Christmas theme, but I still can't help but connect the two. In the DVD our upstairs and downstairs friends are preparing for a royal visit. There are nerves, and lots of planning. Sounds like when I'm having family over, haha.
Mrs Patmore is one of my favorites, and I would love to have her whip me up a pudding. When thinking of classic British desserts so many come to mind. I'm sure Mrs Patmore's were all stunning pieces of art. I'm not that talented!
There are several things that I think everyone should treat themselves to whether visiting England or watching Downton Abbey. I'm a sucker for a good British tea. I take mine with milk and no sugar. I love to pair tea with something sweet, but not to sweet, and for me, that's shortbread.
I grew up eating shortbread and assumed everyone else did too. It never dawned on me that my Grandfather was born in England, and my Great Grandmother who lived with my mom growing up also made it.
It wasn't until 7th grade when I made a batch for a home economics class and ended up with a leftover tin. I passed them around my science class the next hour and none of the other kids had had them before. Who knew they would be a novelty?
How To Make Shortbread Dough:
Shortbread is a simple recipe. But just because it has few ingredients doesn't mean you can just lump it all together. Because there are so few, you need to make sure all those ingredients are top notch. It has 3 main ingredients: flour, butter, and salt.
Good Butter is a key here. I like to buy the European style because it contains more butterfat than it's American cousin. This makes it creamier and richer. Remember, only a few ingredients here - and this is the one that needs to shine. It's only a tad bit higher price wise and makes it worth it.
Don't be tempted to switch it out for margarine either. Margarine gets it fat content from vegetable oils and it doesn't produce the flavor or texture of classic real butter shortbread.
My mom swears by creaming the butter and sugar by hand, and folding in the flour. I've also seen lots of recipes over the years that call for making the shortbread dough in a food processor. I'm a die hard stand mixer fan, so I make mine that way.
The trick with this is to make sure you only beat it until it just combines. If you continue mixing you risk activating the gluten in the flour and making a tougher bake. Don't overwork the dough! I think that was some Mary Berry wisdom that I picked up several years ago. Either way, I'm sticking with it.
In addition to the 3 regular ingredients (4 if you use unsalted butter and need salt), I added in a few other ingredients to give that holiday flair and to lift them up a notch for the special season.
Do I have to chill the dough?
I usually am a cheater when it comes to this, because I'm not a fan of delayed gratification. In fact, I'm pretty darn impatient. But this is one of those "Patience Grasshopper" moments. Even if only for 30 minutes, it will make a big difference.
By chilling the dough, you're allowing that butter that you creamed and melting to solidify and firm back up. This makes it easier if you are cutting cookie cutter shapes, and it prevents them from spreading out on your tray.
Make sure they go from the fridge to a hot oven.
Shaping the dough:
Traditional shortbread can be made by shaping in a circle directly on the baking pan and cutting triangle pie shaped wedges. You can also shape into a rectangle shape on a floured area about ¼-1/2 inch thick and cut into 2.5 inch strips, or use cookie cutter shapes. Then you transfer these to the baking pan.
My mom always made diamond shapes with ruffled edges. In Scotland, my favorite store brand are the rectangular finger style. Either way, the KEY is to use a fork to make holes in the dough.
I'm lazy. I'm the first to admit it. But I also don't like the pie shapes. I crave circles. A few years ago I got in the habit of splitting the dough in half and rolling it into a log shape in wax paper to chill it. One day it dawned on me that I could simply cut ¼ inch to ½ inch slices off these logs and save myself some time and effort! My circles aren't perfect, but there is no flour to clean up after either!
Don't Forget To Make Holes In Your Dough!!!!
Why is it necessary to prick holes in shortbread? These little holes allow the air to rise and escape and keep the cookie flat. This something that also separates the similarities between sugar cookies and shortbread apart. Egg yolks and baking powder and/ or baking soda make those popular sugar cookies rise. You'll note that shortbread has none of those rising agents.
Don't Over Bake Those Cookies!
Oven temperatures vary, size and thickness vary from batch to batch, so I highly suggest keeping a keen eye while baking. Cook on the center rack to ensure constant temperature and rotate your pan halfway through (quickly to not let heat out). The only time I suggest placing them in larger groups, is when you have a convection oven that ensures that every rack has an even temperature.
If you overcook the cookies, they will be tough. You want these to be tender, so bake until the bottom is just slightly browning. If you see the edges get a hint of color, get them out fast. I usually watch and when they seem done, I'll double check the bottom. I'd rather over check than over brown!
If they aren't browned, allow to cool on the pan on the rack for 3-5 minutes. Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely on the wire rack. If they are brown take off immediately to prevent them browning more. Cool on a wire rack rack.
Once totally cool, you can store at room temperature in a tight fitted lidded container for 5-6 days, or in a freezer bag in the fridge for a bit longer. They freeze well, up to several months if in a good container.
Christmas Tea Shortbread Ingredients:
- Unsalted butter
- sugar (I usually use granulated, but you can sub out confectioner's sugar for an even more soft delicate texture- it makes for a tender biscuit!)
- Christmas Tea blend
- brown sugar
- pumpkin pie spice
Did that last one throw you off a bit? I really hate that name and talked about it when sharing my homemade pumpkin pie spice recipe. Why couldn't it be named "Fall Spice" or "Winter Spice" or "Awesome Spice". Anytime anyone talks about it, everyone pictures a big orange pumpkin. I promise you, only the spice mixture and none of the squash.
Why add the tea and spices to the classic recipe?
The classic recipe is just that- classic. But sometimes it feels good to mix things up. Plus I'm obsessed with the seasonal holiday hot tea blends, so I'm trying to find more ways to use them. It's not uncommon to see recipes for Earl Grey Shortbread, and that is one of the original inspirations.
It makes sense that many people would chose Earl Grey because of it's the quintessential black British tea flavor but with hints of citrus notes. My holiday blend is also features black tea leaves, as well as hints of orange. Along with those it has notes of cinnamon and cloves.
Adding the pumpkin spice introduces another classic Christmas flavor-- ginger. It also helps multiple the flavors of cinnamon and cloves, with a touch of nutmeg too.
How to present these holiday cookies:
- Tied up in twine
- decorated with a simple glaze (This snowflake sugar cookie icing is perfect! A little goes a long way, so go lightly to not overwhelm the shortbread with such a sweet topping)
- with sprinkles
- chocolate dipped (white chocolate or dark chocolate are good choices here)
- wrapped up and placed in a bag with the Downton Abbey DVD to give to your favorite Downton fan
What are you most looking forward to when it comes to the Downton Abbey DVD? I hadn't seen the movie, so I popped it in the DVD player right after putting on some cozy pajamas and warm fuzzy socks. It didn't disappoint! Now that I have a stack of shortbread to tide me over, I'm ready to rewatch it again and dive into some of the DVD extras.
It was so good to see my favorite characters on the tv again. It's hard to believe so much time has gone on since the series came to an end. I know I'm not the only one who misses tuning in. The movie filled a bit of that void for me, thank goodness!
If you love this post, you'd also probably really enjoy my recipe for blueberry buttermilk scones! I even have a post on Singing Lily which is another British treat. I fell in love with the UK several years ago, in large part due to my favorite travel experience - feeding wild reindeer in Scotland! And in case you need an adorable reindeer cookie for gift giving I've got that too!
Spread some Christmas cheer! Pin to your favorite holiday cookie board!
Shortbread Christmas Cookie Recipe
- 1 cup butter Unsalted
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 TBSP brown sugar
- 2.5 cups flour
- .5 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 3 bags loose Christmas blend black tea
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- Allow your butter to soften to room temperature before making.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, the loose tea leaves and the pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.
- By hand, or in a mixer or food processor, cream the butter with the sugars. You will need to scrape the sides down. Do this until it is light and fluffy.
- Slowly fold in the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
- Divide mixture in half and chill for at least one hour. Several hours is ideal, and overnight will work.
- When ready to bake, bring oven temperature to 300 degrees.
- Pick whether you would like pie shaped, rolled cut out shapes, or slice and bake. There are tips above in the post. If doing the pie shape, pat one half of the mixture into about a 7 inch circle. Using a knife, score into 16 wedges. If rolling and cutting, be sure to do so on a floured surface. If just slicing, do so in about ¼ to ½ thick slices. Place all on an ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, but keep a keen eye. Only the slightest start of browning is desired. Allow to cool on the pan for a few minutes (unless already too brown)
- Transfer and cool on a wire rack.