One of my most cherished childhood memories is baking Christmas cookies with my mom. She would pull over two kitchen chairs for my sister and I to stand on so we could reach the countertop and get our hands in the flour. We’d watch her line up all of the ingredients, preheat the oven, prepare the cookie sheets.
She’d flip to the back of the recipe rolodex and pull out three cards that were stained with butter splotches and a dusting of flour. It was holiday tradition that we would start with spritz cookies, a butter/sugar cookie that was made special with the magical ingredient, almond extract. Once the butter was creamed and the sugar added, my mom would open up the tiny brown bottle of almond extract, and say “it smells like Christmas now.”
Last weekend, I finally got around to some christmas baking. This isn’t one of our traditional family recipes, but lets just say it was “inspired by” my memory and the “Christmas” smell of almond extract.
I’m kind of in love with these cookies because of the minimal amount of ingredients. And as far as baking goes, they’re pretty foolproof. I subbed in as many “healthier” ingredients as I could but they’re still a pretty sweet and buttery indulgence.
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adapted from marthastewart.com
1 cup butter, room temp (I use vegan Earth Balance, next time I will try coconut oil)
1 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar or granulated sugar *
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup millet flour (or all-purpose is fine too)
only if your butter is unsalted, add 1/2 teaspoon salt
optional toppings – pistachios, pine nuts, dried fruit, etc
(*I found powdered sugar made the dough easier to roll out for the cut-out cookies. I used organic granulated sugar, which is more coarse, for the squares).
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Sift all dry ingredients together.
In a medium bowl, using a wooden spoon, mix butter and almond extract together (as best you can).
Add dry ingredients and mix everything together. Use your hands if necessary to incorporate the butter and get the dough to come together. Your dough will be pretty crumbly. Stop when it has just come together, don’t overmix. Form it into a ball.
For cutout cookies: roll onto a nonstick baking sheet (I rolled pine nuts into the top of my dough), until your dough is about 1/4 inch thick. (If the dough is sticky and you’re having a hard time, put it in the fridge for a little bit so the butter in the dough stiffens up). Bake for about 20 minutes, until the dough starts to turn golden brown. Remove, let cool almost completely before you cut out your shapes.
note: you’ll have a lot of “scraps” with this method and will yield less finished cookies.
For square shortbread: Press dough into an edged baking pan along with any toppings you like. I made a half recipe and used a 5×7 pan, my cookies were a about 1/2 inch thick. Since they were on the thick side, I baked these for about 30-35 minutes, until they started turning golden brown on top. The time will vary depending on the thickness, so just watch them. Once they’re done, let cool and then slice.