I felt a huge sigh of relief a few years ago when a friend at church pointed out that Christmas lasts for twelve days. Count them – twelve. With stores hanging lights in October, advertisers bombarding everyone with “holiday specials” pre-Halloween, black Friday shopping starting before I had fully digested my turkey dinner and three pieces of pie I feel that by the time Christmas actually rolls around it’s already over. But it isn’t, it is just beginning. I can breathe. If everything is not done by midnight on December 24th the world does not shudder and come to a stand still (or worse still blow up). With that extra 11 day buffer it doesn’t matter if I only have four batches of cookies done or all seven – Christmas will happen either way. There is much comfort in knowing this. I offer it to you, this gift of knowledge, Christmas lasts for twelve days. Do not feel the burden of trying to cram everything into one day because you have time.
Shawn’s Pecan Butterscotch Cookies
My copy of Jasper White’s Cooking from New England falls open to the recipe for Mark’s Butterscotch Icebox Cookies. After years of making and tweaking them I’ve renamed my version after my husband who loves them. I’ve amplified the recipe by quadrupling the amount of pecans and doubling the vanilla. Interestingly this recipe calls for them to be made into cookie logs and refrigerated before slicing and baking.
Shawn’s Pecan Butterscotch Cookies
1 cup pecans
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups sifted flour (sift then measure)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Either in the oven or on the stove top in a cast iron pan toast the almonds until lightly brown and fragrant. Cool, then chop into small pieces. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla creaming to incorporate. Sift in the flour, soda and salt and throw in the nuts. Stir until well combined. Make the dough into cookie logs, for directions on how to do that click here. Pop logs into fridge for a few hours or a few days.
When ready to bake preheat the oven to 350º F. Slice cookie logs roughly 1/4″ and place on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake 9-11 minutes turning the sheet 180º half way through baking. Cool and store in air-tight tins.
This recipe comes from my Grammy Caldwell’s friend Gertrude and has been a classic Christmas cookie in our family for more than half a century. Lovely butter-y shortbread dough rolled into balls which a small spoonful of jam cooked into the spot where you press your thumb. I have yet to meet someone who can eat just one of these.
3/4 pound unsalted butter, softened (three sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 – 3 3/4 cups flour
Seedless raspberry jam
Preheat the oven to 325º F. Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until well blended. Stir in the vanilla and salt then add half the flour. You will most likely need to stir in the other half of the flour by hand, rather than with the mixer. If you need to work on your biceps cream the whole thing by hand.
When I went to write up this recipe I realized I have four different versions – all calling for various amounts of flour. Looking at the four different recipe cards spread across my counter was a moment where I wished I could wave a magic wand and be back in Grammy Caldwell’s kitchen. I could stand at her side one more time and take notes while she was cooking, and I would weigh the flour before she added it to the butter and sugar so I would know precisely how much she used. After all a cup of flour can vary hugely depending on if it has been sifted or not. Of course if I could wind back the clock I would also be able to giver her one more hug and tell her how much I love her and learned from her. I think she knew, but it would be pretty great to be able to tell her one more time.
Shortbread is simple, just a few ingredients, so each one needs to be in proper relationship with the others. Use the best butter you can afford. If you like your cookies a bit “shorter” use the lesser amount of flour. If you like them more cookie-like use the larger amount. Both variations are yummy.
Once you’ve mixed the dough roll it into small balls the size of shooter marbles. Place them on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and poke a depression in each cookie with a finger. Fill the the finger holes with a tiny spoonful (we’re talking the tip of a baby spoon) of seedless raspberry jam. The important part is no seeds. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned, and the jam is nice and bubbly. I give the baking sheet a 180º turn half way through. You do not want to brown the upper part of the cookie.
Full disclosure: I have over-browned these cookies on more than one occasion, including twice in the past week as I was trying to write this post. Family and friends have selflessly come to my rescue and eaten all the overcooked ones. Not a crumb of evidence is left.