Christmas baking is underway! So far, I’ve made Clarke’s Bread (to go with pate that T is in the process of making), cherry snowballs (the real kind with dried cherries) and a new cookie for me: orange thyme cookies.
When it comes to cookies, for me they have to be buttery and crisp. I have never been a big fan of soft pillowy cookies, or those sweetened with icing. I like spice or nut cookies, but my very favorite cookie is a delicate butter or shortbread cookie.
– Deborah Mele, Italian Food Forever
A couple of days ago, a Christmas package from my sister arrived. I didn’t open it right away. But I knew that there would be a good shot of Mum’s Christmas cake. Yay! We only have a little of last year’s left….
Usually, my sister includes two or three kinds of cookies as well. Little tiny sugar cookies shaped like trees with sparkling coloured sugar. And spice cookies shaped like stars. And my favourites: lemon thyme cookies shaped like Angels. Invariably some of the angels wings have fallen off in the journey. This always makes me very happy. It means that I can safely eat the “damaged” angels. Because it wouldn’t do to serve them to guests, would it?
So imagine my surprise to learn from her that
There. Are. No. Cookies. Included.
I can live (just) without the sugar cookies and the spice cookies. But it won’t be Christmas without lemon-thyme cookies!
So I went onto the internet to see if I had to use lemon thyme. Because, of course, there is zero thyme – lemon or regular – to be had from our garden that is buried under mounds of snow. Actually, even if the snow weren’t there, there would be zero lemon thyme. It died this summer in the intense heat.
We do, however, have fresh thyme in the fridge. We got some for making chicken liver pate….
Luckily, there are a number of lemon thyme cookie recipes on the internet that call for regular thyme, lemon zest. Some of them called for lemon juice or lemon extract as well. I chose one that didn’t call for eggs (I already have fractions of recipes slated for the one egg I plan to use), scrawled it down and headed into the kitchen.
As I was getting the icing sugar out, I realized that we didn’t have any lemons. Ooops!! But we do have oranges. Those would work, wouldn’t they?
Also, as I was getting the sugar, I saw our stash of homemade vanilla extract (we have WONDERFUL neighbours) right next to the little bottle of orange extract that I had made a couple of months ago (when testing recipes for Jamie Schler’s cookbook “Oranges” – with photos by Ilva Beretta, that will be published by Gibbs Smith and is due out in November 2017), as an experiment with orange zest and vodka. I smelled the orange extract. Wow! Sweetly orangey. Beautiful. Even though the scrawled recipe didn’t call for lemon juice, vanilla OR lemon extract, I knew I had to add some orange extract.
So I started mixing the ingredients together. And saw that there was no salt. No salt?! Are they crazy???
Did I make a mistake? (Nope, I just checked) Who makes shortbread without salt? It would be so bland!
[I]n most pastry-making, salt is used as a background flavor, to keep batters and doughs from tasting flat.
I like sweets, but I like them tempered with something not-necessarily sweet, which is why sometimes you’ll see a squeeze of lemon juice added to a fruit ice cream base or bakers like me include a pinch of salt in batter, to balance things out.
[Salt] adds a bit of contrast to any sweetness, and helps to enhances other flavors, too.
-David Lebovitz (davidlebovitz.com), Baking Ingredients and Substitutions; Sables Bretons: French salted butter cookies; Salted Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe
Once the dough was mixed, I went rummaging through the drawer, searching for the tiny tree cookie cutter I KNOW we have. I found tiny cookie cutters galore but not one tree-shaped cutter. And not one angel-shaped cutter either. There was a girl-shaped one though, so I used that and bent her arms up to resemble (sort of) wings.
That started to be a little annoying though when her head kept popping off after stamping out the dough. So I switched and made triangles with our frilly edged ravioli cutter.
The cookies are beautiful! And they taste delicious.
Do they taste as delicious as my sister’s lemon thyme cookies? It’s really hard to say. It’s a bit like comparing lemons and oranges…. But they are awfully good.
Here’s what I did to make the cookies:
Orange Thyme Shortbread
based on a recipe for Lemon-Thyme Shortbread Cookies Laced with Honey
- 6 Tbsp sweet butter, very soft (I would have used salted butter but we didn’t have any)
- 4 Tbsp icing sugar
- 2 Tbsp cornmeal
- 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or more….)
- 1 tsp finely shredded orange zest
- 1/4 tsp orange extract
- 1 tsp (or so) salt
- 7/8 c unbleached all-purpose flour
- Cream the sugar into the butter. Add cornmeal, thyme, orange zest, orange extract, salt and flour. Stir with a wooden spoon and/or knead the dough in the bowl until it’s smooth.
- Roll the dough into a rectangle and cut into shapes. Put them onto a parchment covered cookie sheet.
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated 350F oven (our oven tends to run a bit hot, so you may want to turn your oven up to 375F) on the top shelf to prevent them from burning on the bottom). They should be tinged with gold.
Allow the cookies to cool completely before putting them in a tin.
Cornmeal: The cornmeal adds a lovely graininess to the cookies.
Salt: If you don’t use salted butter, make sure to be generous with the salt. The cookies will be quite dull without the salt.
Orange Extract: If you don’t have access to home-made orange extract (simply zest a well washed and dried orange and add the zest to a little vodka. Store in the dark in a glass jar for several weeks to infuse the vodka with the orange flavour), I would be inclined to omit it. Commercial extracts taste… well… awful.
(How did I get the idea to make orange extract? I was fortunate enough to be part of the team of testers for Jamie Schler’s upcoming cookbook. The recipes that I tested were fabulous. The ones I didn’t get a chance to test sounded fabulous. (I must say that I cannot wait for her cookbook to appear!))
- a few other thyme cookie/shortbread recipes:
» Better Homes & Gardens: Lemon-Thyme Shortbread Cookies Laced with Honey
» Italian Food Forever: Deborah Mele’s lemon thyme butter cookies
» Epicurious: Mary Cech’s Thyme, Lemon, and Sea-Salt Shortbread recipe
» OMG! Yummy: orange thyme cocktail cookies
- recipes from OUR kitchen:
» recipes index
» blog recipes index
And, of course, T has already made his shortbread. And there will be Mum’s Christmas cake (thank you, P!).
Hmmm… do you think that will be enough cookies?
Oh!! I just remembered about the fabulous cornmeal shortbread we make that we learned about when we still liked SAVEUR magazine. I cannot believe I have never blogged about them! I really cannot believe we never took photos!
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