Christmas Shortbread Cookie Baking Bonanza Day!

That is a mouthful of a title…but not as yummy as a mouthful of buttery, flaky, shortbread cookies!

Yesterday my daughter came over for our annual Christmas cookie baking palooza day.  This is our 3rd year of baking cookies together, prior to that, she was always baking them with her cousin.  But since her cousin moved to BC a few years ago for school, she has been painfully missed.  So I happily stand in for my niece and offer up my kitchen to the Gods of Flour Scattering.  Yup, plural, I do believe there is more than one, hence the mess of my kitchen at the end of the day.

My daughter and niece grew up learning how to make these delicious cookies from their paternal Grandma.  I never learned the secret of shortbread cookie making.  Every year from the time they each were about 6 or 7, they spent the day making Christmas cookies with Grandma.  Since she passed away some 14 years ago, they continued the tradition together until my niece moved out west. 

Now I get to have some one-on-one lessons in shortbread cookie making…which isn’t really that easy and I don’t seem to be catching on to it either.  There is an art to making shortbread cookie dough.  Too much flour = tough cookies, too little = they break and fall apart while trying to cut them out.  It isn’t so much a science as having a *feel* for the dough.   Something I clearly don’t have as the last time hubby and I tried to make them (sans daughter), it was a disaster and we swore never to make them again without her.

She is now the Shortbread Cookie Queen of the family and happily dons her tiara and apron… the tiara is missing, but she at least wears her apron,  and guides me through the process …which goes in one ear and out the other apparently. 

Black Beauty is all polished and ready for the day.  She will get quite the workout, and by the time we are done, she will not be so sleek and shiny anymore, but nothing a dishcloth and hot soapy water can’t fix.

We do three batches of cookie dough and our plan of attack is as follows:

First Batch:  Pressed cookies, mainly because the pressed cookies are a royal PITA and we prefer to get them out of the way while we are still gung ho and lively.

Second Batch:  Cutouts for Belgian Cookies (aka Empire Cookies), so they can sit and cool before assembling.

Third Batch: Cutout Cookies in various Christmas shapes, Bells, Stars, Trees, Holly Leaves and the absolute worst – Santas.  His foot is so narrow and small it is a given that there will be ‘rejects’ when the foot breaks during cutting or removal from the tray after baking.

Starting off with the press cookies, we divide the first batch of dough into 3.  One will be left plain, the others will be coloured green and red.  Let the…FUN commence! This is where getting the ‘feel’ for the dough comes in, usually having to add additional flour until you reach the right consistency.   Not enough flour and the cookies will not release from the press so she always mix the dough withholding a half cup of flour and then adding a tbsp or so at a time so she can ‘play’ with it to get it to where she wants it.  She is a master at attaining the right consistency.   With the dough all set, she’s off and running.  While she presses, I cut up the cherries for the wreaths, decorate and load the oven with trays as she fills them.

Soon, the house is filled with the aroma of soft, buttery cookies…mmmmm….

We stopped for a quick bite for lunch of crackers and hummus (and maybe a broken cookie or two) and watch a couple hilarious You-tube videos,  then we are on to batch # 2, the dough for the Belgian Cookies.  Using the same dough recipe, we add a ½ tsp. of almond extract to enhance this heavenly, indulgent cookie.   I roll the dough out in small batches (we have assigned jobs during cookie making, she operates the cookie press and I do the rolling of the dough for the cutouts, much better for both our sanities) and cutout the 2 ½ fluted circles of dough.   Soon they are done and cooling on the racks awaiting their next stage.

Next up – Batch # 3, using the same strategy as # 1, we divide the dough into thirds and keep one plain and colour the other two.  After about 5 minutes (which seemed like an eternity), I gave up on the cutouts and handed the cutter I was using over to her, pfft – no patience for these things, I will re-roll the dough and monitor those already in the oven. 

The dining room table is soon overflowing with cookies.  With the cutouts done, it is time to assemble the Belgian’s.  Hubby comes home and immediately heads over to snatch a cookie or two, but then resumes his role of cleanup dude and starts washing the mountains of utensils and dishes accumulated throughout the day (he is great for cleanup duty).

The best part about making the Belgian cookies is that you get to sit down while putting them together, as by this time, 6 hours of standing meant for tired and sore legs and feet.  Amazing how you spent what seemed like an eternity cutting out circles for these cookies but end up with half the amount of finished cookie…not fair indeed.  But they sure do look good! 

Of course, we had to make a much larger one for her hubby as Belgian’s are one of his very favourite cookies and we stuffed so much jam in the middle it was oozing out the side and the icing was running off the top.   I bet that cookie doesn’t last the night.

With the fruits of our labour done, we divided the home-made loot and packed her cookie tins full.  She then headed home with her hubby and another successful day can be added to the annual baking palooza tradition.   

I can’t wait for next year and do it all over again to keep the tradition going, it’s a great way to spend the day with my daughter and I wouldn’t miss it for the world… and maybe someday I will actually be able to make these things without her….naw…I will leave her with the crown and title of Shortbread Cookie Baking Queen.

Thanks sweetie!

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