Shamrock Cookies

Just in time for St Paddy's Day, here's a recipe for shamrock cookies (aka regular sugar cookies shaped & dyed like shamrocks). I'm in the US just now, so this is a short one, but basically, these cookies, though cute, are so temperamental. The dough didn't firm up enough to really slice through it cleanly, even with my sharpest knife, so the first ones I made had leaves shaped like ovals. Then I started forming the dough into balls and flattening them with the bottom of a glass, but they stuck so badly to the glass that those ones ended up ragged on top. Finally I came up with the idea of forming the dough into three small balls, placing them next to each other and baking like that, which was fine but it yielded a very cakey cookie that went from undercooked to burnt in the time it took me to put on my oven mitt so I could get the pan out of the oven. They reminded me a lot of these, actually.

The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. Adorable! But not very practical, unless you are having a St Patrick's Day party, in which case I would totally make these. I hear green beer washes them down just swell.

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ONE YEAR AGO: MOCHA CAKE WITH CARAMEL FROSTING
TWO YEARS AGO: HONEY CHOCOLATE CAKE
three years ago: French Pudding

the recipe:

Shamrock Cookies

the directions:

Stir together flour, salt and baking soda, then set aside.
In another bowl, mix shortening, sugar, egg and vanilla.
Blend flour mixture into shortening mixture, adding enough food colouring to tint the dough green about halfway through.
Divide dough in half and roll each half into a log about 1-inch wide and 10-inches long.
Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill at least one hour or up to overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 200C/400F.
With your sharpest knife, slice 1/8-inch slices and place slices just touching on an ungreased baking sheet.
Use the remnant dough from each end to make stems for the shamrocks.
(If your knife, like mine, is not sharp enough to slice cleanly through the cookie dough, you can roll small teaspoons of dough into balls and arrange them as above. This will yield a puffier, cakier cookie).

the ingredients:

1 ½ c (180g) flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda
½ c (110g) Stork (shortening in the US)
½ c (100g) sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
Green food dye

Shortbread

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First, let's address the fact that this recipe is labelled 'Scotch Shortbread,' when everyone knows that the only things you should ever refer to as 'Scotch' are eggs and whisky. This is a real thing: the correct word is Scottish. And because I'm pretty sure no self-respecting Scottish person or any person who lives here would ever refer to Scotch shortbread, I have a strong suspicion that (horror of horrors!) this recipe was not, in fact, developed in Scotland, so I shall refer to it simply as shortbread.

Now, on to more important things: Thursday is Burns' Night- do you know where you'll be? If you're me, you'll be trying to talk your way out of dancing a ceilidh with a kilted youth after eating more haggis, neeps and tatties than should rightfully be allowed by law. Burns' Night is a celebration of Robert (Rabbie) Burns on his birthday every year in January, and it's a good thing he was born in January because this would be a terrible meal to eat in July.

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A proper Burns' Night involves the following:

  • A haggis, to which you read a poem before you cut into it with a sword (not a joke- this causes like a zillion serious eye injuries every year when juices squirt out during the poem-reading or sword-slashing)
  • The aforementioned side dishes of neeps and tatties (neeps are like what would happen if a rutabaga met a turnip and fell in love... and also turned orange)
  • A bunch more poems later
  • A dessert like cranachan (my fave!) or shortbread
  • Ceilidh dancing (pronounced KAY-lee, this is traditional Scottish dancing)
  • And literally all of the whisky you can drink without dying.

While cranachan and sticky toffee pudding are my favourite traditional Scottish desserts, shortbread is nothing to be scoffed at- particularly after a meal as heavy as a Burns' Supper, sometimes it's nice to have a small shortbread with your coffee and call it a night (yeah right, more like 'a shortbread with your coffee before you hit the dance floor'). So if you're looking for a non-fussy Scottish recipe to celebrate your Burns' Night here in Scotland or vicariously from elsewhere, try this shortbread. It's great plain, but works well with decorations as recommended as well.

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Some tips: It's important not to overwork shortbread as this will make it tough, so you'll want to mix this as little as possible. The dough will be quite a sandy texture before you roll it out, and rolling it out might be a little tough since it will want to crumble and fall apart on you. Luckily, it's ok if these cookies are a little on the thick side, and even better: if you're really not in the mood to roll this dough out, you can dump it straight into an 8-inch round baking tin, press it as flat as possible and bake it that way. If you go this route, prick the dough thoroughly with a fork after pressing it into the pan, refrigerate it for at least 15 minutes before baking, and slice it immediately after removing from the oven, while still warm.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. If you like shortbread, you'll love this- I'd give it more spoons, but, having a major sweet tooth and a need for frosting or at least chocolate in my desserts, shortbread is low on my list of faves. But this is the only shortbread I've ever had that tasted better the second day, when the texture seemed to mellow a bit more, meaning you can make it a day ahead (tonight!) and not worry about it going stale before you serve it tomorrow.

ONE YEAR AGO: TOLL HOUSE MARBLE SQUARES
TWO YEARS AGO: ASIAN CHICKEN TWO WAYS

the recipe:

Shortbread

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Cream butter.
Add sugar gradually, beating well after each addition.
Cream until light and fluffy.
Blend in flour, baking powder and salt, mixing until a sandy mixture has formed.
Roll dough out on a well-floured surface- try to make it as thin as possible, about 1/3-inch (8.5mm).
Cut with a 2-inch round biscuit cutter.
(Alternately, pour dough into an 8-inch round pan, press flat, prick with a fork several times and bake as below).
Bake 12-15 minutes until biscuits are just starting to turn gold at the edges
As soon as shortbread comes out of the oven, decorate with candied cherries or mixed peel.
If using melted chocolate to decorate, allow cookies to cool fully first.

Makes approx. 20 cookies

the ingredients:

½ c (114g) butter
¼ c (29g) powdered sugar, sifted
1 c (120g) flour, sifted
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
Candied cherries, melted chocolate, or mixed peel to decorate

Lemon Snowflakes and Snow Drop Kisses

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

This might be the coldest winter we've had in Edinburgh since Judson and I moved here in 2013. It's definitely not the snowiest (last year), but it is cold this year and I don't think the temperature has crested the freezing point in two weeks. It's so bad that last week after catching a late showing of Star Wars at a theatre less than one half mile from our flat, we caught a cab home because it was a straight uphill walk and we didn't want to deal with it in the ice late at night. It's so bad that even when we're just running her out into the garden for a quick outing, we still have to bundle Holtzmann up in her tiny tartan jacket so she doesn't get too cold.

All that cold, alas, has not turned into snow. I still love snow with the relish of a child who grew up in Florida, and despite the fact that I get around solely on foot in this city and am not great at negotiating cobblestones disguised by a layer of ice and snow, it's still worth it when the snow falls on the castle and on these adorably cosy streets. Plus, we really want to see Holtzmann to have a chance to play in the snow. Given the refusal of the temperatures to budge, I'm still holding out hope for a white Christmas.

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

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In the meantime, if it's not snowing outside, at least it can snow indoors... which is how I ended up with a batch of Lemon Snowflakes and Snow Drop Kisses gracing my kitchen this weekend. The Lemon Snowflakes are great- another toasty, nutty cookie that is supposed to be made with pecans and so another chance for me to use pistachios instead (if you're reading this and trying to think of a Christmas gift for me, SEND PECANS!). They're easy and they're supposed to be messy, which takes the pressure off of you if, say, you've spent the last week making intricately decorated wreaths, stars and gingerbreads.

As for the Snow Drop Kisses, these are basically just meringues with fruit mixed in, and the mystifying addition of oatmeal. I'm not very good at making meringues. Probably this is because I had never had one until age 20 when I moved to Paris, but regardless, every time I've tried to make them they've come out tan. Add to this the fact that I'm not really sure what they're supposed to be and you have a recipe for meringues that I enjoy but am too embarrassed to serve to friends. Are they supposed to be crunchy all the way through? Should they have a chewy centre? I don't really know. All I know is that I had a really hard time getting these to be firm on the outside without burning all the fruit in the middle.

Here's where I landed: 15 minutes at 150C/300F gave me a meringue with a soft, marshmallow-y centre with a dry exterior. The meringues were just this side of ivory, but when I bit into one I was pleasantly surprised to find that the oatmeal had become a crisp counterpoint to what otherwise would have been an overpowering soft/sweet mess. The apricots (my supermarket is sold out of mixed candied fruit since everyone is making last minute puddings this week) worked well and added another dimension of flavour, and overall, although these aren't pretty enough to serve to other people, I actually rather like them.

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

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The verdict:
lemon snowflakes:

4 spoons out of five. The frosting really makes these, so don't skimp on it! The heavy amount of cornstarch in the dough gives them a silky crumb, and, paired with a zingy bright frosting to cut through the crunch, they're the perfect addition to any holiday party platter.

Snow drop kisses:

3 spoons out of five. I'm really only deducting spoons for the fact that they're not very pretty. If you like your meringues soft and sticky on the inside, make these for yourself asap.

One year ago: crazy crust apple pie
two years ago: Meltaway Cookies & Hot Cider

The recipe:

Lemon Snowflakes

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F and butter two cookie sheet.
Cream butter until fluffy.
Gradually beat in ½ c powdered sugar, then the cornstarch and flour.
Chill at least one hour or up to overnight.
Shape into walnut-sized balls.
Spread chopped nuts on waxed or parchment paper.
Place a ball on the chopped nuts and press gently and evenly with the bottom of a glass until a thin disk is formed.
Place cookies, nut side up on prepared cookie sheet.
Bake 12 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to turn light golden.
While cookies cool, make the frosting: beat remaining powdered sugar, melted butter and lemon juice until mixture forms a thick paste.
Line cookies up in rows and pour frosting over the cookies by moving back and forth in quick motions.

the ingredients:

½ c butter, softened
1 ½ c powdered sugar, divided
¾ c cornstarch
1 ½ c flour, sifted
1 c pistachios, very finely chopped
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp lemon juice

The recipe:

Snow Drop Kisses

the directions:

Preheat oven to 150C/300F and grease two large cookie sheets.
In a very clean bowl, beat egg whites until frothy.
Add vinegar and vanilla and beat a few seconds more.
Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Continue beating until mixture is stiff and glossy and you can no longer feel any grains of sugar in it (this will take at least 10 minutes).
Gently fold in fruit and oatmeal with a spatula.
Using a teaspoon (for firmer meringues) or a tablespoon (for softer ones), drop onto prepared cookie sheets.
Bake 15-18 minutes until the outsides are dry but give slightly when you poke them.

Best eaten fresh. May also be served with whipped cream like mini pavlovas.

the ingredients:

3 egg whites
½ tsp cider vinegar
½ tsp vanilla
1 c sugar
½ c diced mixed candied fruit, or dried apricots
½ c oats