Cookie of the Month: Boosting flavor in a cranberry slice

I am big fan of slice-and-bake cookies. Their make-ahead and make-as-you-need-them approach makes me happy in a holiday season crowded with recipes and goody-making possibilities. I’m also a big fan of shortbread, and if the shortbread comes in slice-and-bake form (as many of them do), I’m even more enamored.

I had saved a special slice-and-bake recipe for November — Cranberry Slices from Taste of Home (https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/cranberry-slices/). I loved how chopped ruby cranberries dotted rectangular slices of a rich, buttery shortbread in this recipe, which also included chopped crystallized ginger.

What I thought the recipe could use was orange zest. The citrus flavor is a natural paired with cranberries, so I took it upon myself to add the zest of one orange in my first batch of these cookies, and I decided to leave out the ginger and see how they turned out.

These cookies stir up so quickly and easily, there is no excuse not to make them. You essentially cream the butter with salt, sugar, an egg yolk and your flavorings (in this case, the orange zest and vanilla). Then you add flour to mix to a soft dough, and then mix in the cranberries. I love how this makes the recipe a one-bowl wonder…always appreciated.

This shortbread has a different twist on its shape that also makes it a standout. You divide the dough in half and shape each half into a rectangular block. These are chilled for at least three hours.

After the blocks are chilled, they are sliced into 1/4-inch thick cookies, which are placed on parchment-lined baking sheets. I baked mine about 14 minutes at 350°.

One thing about shortbread — you do not want to over-bake them. If anything, they are best-served with a little under baking. Just a light, barely golden brown. This batch of these lovely little cookies, with their chopped cranberry bits and orange zest were completely delicious. I was pleased with the cookie and the addition of the orange flavor, but I wanted to take it a bit further.

I was dreaming of other tastes that would thrive in this shortbread. In my second batch of the cookies, I kept the orange zest in the cookie, but added fresh rosemary and chopped toasted pecans when I added the chopped cranberries. I wanted the crunch from the pecans (as well as their delicate buttery flavor) and with the rosemary, I thought its flavor would also enhance everything else…an aromatic bottom note, as well as adding a little bit of green to the cookie (plus, I have rosemary growing everywhere, so I’m always happy to use it, especially in holiday cooking and baking).

As I was shaping the blocks for this batch of cookies, I was already pleased with the appearance of the dough with my additions. It also smelled heavenly — even before baking — and I tasted a bit of the dough (also a great indicator of things to come — a good dough usually equals a good cookie), and was well-pleased with all the flavors and textures.

I do believe sometimes (always!) you need to follow your baking/creating instincts…this cookie is proof of that. The rosemary provides a warm, earthy taste. The citrus and cranberries are bright and tart and so happy together. The pecans provide that crunchy richness. The sweet shortbread is buttery and tender. What a delicious little gem, with all sorts of yummy flavors of the season baked into a delightful little sliced bar, the shape of which is, by the way, just perfect for coffee or teatime dipping.

Cranberry-Orange Pecan-Rosemary Slices

Adapted from Taste of Home (www.tasteofhome.com)

Makes about 2 dozen

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Zest of one orange (about a tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, egg yolk, salt, orange zest and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually add in the flour until a soft dough forms. Stir in the cranberries, pecans and rosemary.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a rectangular block/log measuring about 6 by 3 by 1 inches. Wrap dough blocks in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours.

Heat oven to 350°. Unwrap the blocks and cut into about 1/4-inch slices and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for about 12 to 14 minutes or until just light golden, Cool on a wire rack.

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