OK…you’ve already got the recipe for a really outrageous shortbread cookie in the recipe “Basic Shortbread, JuicyMaters Style”…now let’s take that dough to a whole ‘nother level…and all three of these upgrades are two things. They are super delicious and they are super simple additions to the basic cookie.
Upgrade #1. Rosemary. When you are making shortbread cookies, Rosemary is your friend…your very good friend…because the only thing you do different is, well, add finely chopped Rosemary.
Strip the leaves from 1 to 2 6 inch long shoots of Rosemary and chop them very finely and add them to the dry ingredients, mixing them in well.
I’m something of a Rosemary freak so I always use two shoots for this size dough recipe, but typically one would be enough for most people.
From this point forward continue with the cookie preparation the same as if you were making the basic cookies. There is only one word to describe this cookie.
Upgrade #2. Thumbprint Cookies. For these beauties, first you need to decide what “flavor” you are going to put in the thumbprint and change the extract you use in the dough mix to complement the centers. I like the flavor of peaches so I use peach flavored marmalade in the centers of the cookies and peach flavored extract in the dough. Sometimes a flavor you want in the cookie centers doesn’t have a corresponding extract. In that case simply make sure the extract flavor you use complements the centers rather than clashing with them.
OK…first make your shortbread dough using the extract you have selected.
My recipes call for a “normal” amount of extracts, which is never enough flavor for me. If you are like me and love intense flavors, follow my lead…use a good bit more extract than the recipe calls for. I usually double the amount and I ALWAYS use at least 50% more than a recipe (even mine) calls for.
After you have made the dough, rather than rolling it out flat like for my original shortbread cookies, pinch off a bit and roll it between your hands into a ball…slightly larger than a “shooter” marble, and slightly smaller than a golfball. In cooking terms, a walnut sized ball. Place the dough balls on a lightly greased, or parchment paper lined, cookie sheet about 2 to 2 ½ inches apart…about 15 balls per cookie sheet.
Right about here you have another decision to make. Do you want nice, pretty, perfect looking cookies…like they would look coming from a cookie factory…or do you want a slightly rustic, country, homemade look to them? I like the homemade look myself.
For the perfect “cookie factory” look, use the small end of a melon baller to make an impression resembling a tiny bowl in the center of the ball. You will have a small circle of dough with a perfectly round depression in the center that will look like 2,495,674 other cookies made the same way…or…
Using your thumb, or the middle knuckle on your index finger (they ARE called thumbprint cookies you know), make the same impression you could have made with the melon baller, a tiny bowl in the center of the dough…except these will look like YOU made them instead of a machine.
Now…in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine ½ cup of jam or marmalade of your choice (my favorites are peach and blackberry) with ½ cup of sugar. Heat, while stirring constantly, until the sugar has just dissolved and the mixture is very liquid.
It will take some experimentation to get the right proportions of jam to sugar for the “softness” of the center you want, depending on the marmalade of jam you choose. You want the centers hard enough to stay put and not stick to other cookies, but not as hard as rock candy. Think “chewey”.
Spoon a small amount of this mixture into the center depression in each cookie, filling to the top of the “bowl”, but not spilling over the edge.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes…until the cookie (not the filling) is golden brown.
As an added garnish, immediately after removing the cookies from the oven, while still hot so it will stick, sprinkle some coarse sugar over the top…colored sugar works as well and gives the cookie a festive look!
Upgrade #3. “Stained Glass” Shortbread Cookies. These cookies are a very festive and unique looking cookie…not to mention the fact that they taste GREAT! They are a bit more involved to make than the other shortbread options here, and they take a little more equipment, but it’s worth it. Let’s get started.
The extra equipment you will need consists of cookie cutters in two sizes…example two different star sizes, two different Christmas tree sizes, etc. You want the difference in size to give you a cutout at least a quarter inch smaller than the outside edge of the same shaped cookie.
The only extra ingredient you will need, besides the basic shortbread dough, is a clear, colorful, hard candy. I use Lifesavers, but anything similar will work.
You can either buy colors already separated, or buy the assorted colors and sort and separate them is you are just bored and looking to fill some time…LOL
First, make the basic shortbread dough as explained in the recipe “Basic Shortbread, JuicyMaters Style”.
Next, put some candy in ziplock style bags, squeeze the air out before closing so they don’t pop open, and crush the lifesavers (or other candy). I use a rolling pin rolling it back and forth over the candy. You do not want to reduce it to dust (though that will work), but you do want it to be in pretty small pieces.
Now…here is where it gets a tiny bit more involved than for the other cookies. You will have cookie shaped cookie dough that has a pretty narrow edge, and the pieces are hard to move without breaking the edge or, at least, leaving you with a deformed shape…unless you use this trick.
Roll out the dough on a flat (no upturned edge) cookie sheet already lined with parchment paper.
If all your cookie sheets are “sheet pan” style with an upturned edge, turn it over and lay the parchment paper on the back. There is no law requiring pans be used “right side up”.
After rolling out the dough to a consistent ¼ inch thickness, use the larger cookie cutter of the two of similar shapes and cut the cookie shapes from the dough leaving the extra between cookies where it is when finished, for now.
Now use the smaller of the cookie cutters and carefully cut the center of the cookies out.
Next, very carefully, remove the excess dough, saving it to re-roll on another cookie sheet for the next pan of cookies. You should be left with a pan full of outlined shapes of trees, stars, or whatever shapes you chose.
At this point, if you are like me, you’ll look at the pan and say to yourself, “Self…that pan looks mighty empty.”, and you’ll be right. Next time you’ll plan your cookie cutting better to arrange more cookies in the same space.
OK…remember those baggies of crushed Lifesavers? Now you use the candy pieces to fill the center opening in the cookies you just cut out…
I said FILL the center opening…all the way full and just a tiny bit overfull. When the hard candy melts it will settle some to fill the air pockets between the tiny, pre-melted pieces, and you don’t want to end up with paper-thin hard candy…the cookies will break.
Bake these cookies for about 20 minutes, to a golden brown, at 350 degrees. After removing from the oven, let them cool VERY thoroughly before trying to remove them from the pan or the candy centers will break.
Now you have some delicious cookies to eat, or…
These make WONDERFUL gifts to give at Christmas on a very tight budget. Go to the Dollar Store or a chain drug store like Walgreens and buy some tins and colored tissue paper. They can be had for a song. This past holiday season I bought a couple dozen tins for a dollar a piece. Make sure the tins are large enough to lay the cookies flat two wide, four long, and stacked three deep.
You now have the recipes for four variations of basic, inexpensive shortbread cookies…Basic, Rosemary, Thumbprint, and Stained Glass. Stacking them in the tins two wide, four long, and three deep, gives you a half dozen of each cookie for a total of two dozen cookies that would be considered high-end cookie gifts at a good bakery or online…and they will be fresh with good ingredients, not made as cheaply as possible as with commercially produced cookies.
Custom cookies sell for $20.00 to $25.00 a dozen, plus shipping, on the internet. Not a bad way to save on gift-giving, is it?