While most people are consumed by sales on Black Friday, when the day after Thanksgiving rolls around, I become completely consumed by holiday baking. This year, the only thing I purchased on Black Friday was a restock of all of my baking essentials from Costco because my favorite time of year is finally upon us: Holiday Cookie Season.
Some of the people closest to me have tried to intervene. I’ve been called a cookie pusher. I’ve been told I’m obsessive. But year after year I can’t help but push myself to make even more cookies. It brings me so much joy to create beautiful packages of holiday treats to send off to friends, family, neighbors, and my kids’ teachers.
Over the years I’ve developed a list of must-bake cookies, like peanut butter blossoms, snickerdoodles, and iced oatmeal cookies. And I try to make one or two new recipes each year. One classic cookie that never made my list of must-bakes was sugar cookies—the kind that you roll out and cut. Sure, they are fun to make with kids, but the taste and texture are lacking. By the time you have a dough that is workable, so much flour has been added that it tastes, well, like flour. Adding icing is super messy and time-consuming.
That changed last year when I tried a few cookie recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh’s cookbook Sweet, including the Orange and Star Anise Shortbread. This shortbread! It’s become my new favorite holiday cookie and has a surprising ingredient that fixes everything I used to dislike about sugar cookies.
This shortbread is basically a roll-out sugar cookie, but better. You can use whatever festive shape of cookie cutters you desire, but the way the dough comes together is anything but basic in taste and texture. Instead of all-purpose flour, the cookie dough calls for ‘00’ flour and white rice flour.
The ‘00’ flour is lighter than all-purpose flour so the cookies turn out light and airy. The rice flour is gluten-free, so it impedes excess gluten formation as you work with the dough. Excess gluten in cookies makes for chewy cookies, which in some cases is fine, but in sugar cookies is not desirable. The rice flour also gives the cookies a crisp and crumbly texture. (If you love The Great British Bake Off, this is also known as “a very snappy biscuit.”)
Another thing I love about this cookie dough is that you do not need a stand mixer. You use your hands or a pastry blender to work the butter into the dry ingredients, another factor that helps to keep the gluten formation low.
While it may be intimidating to try something other than your beloved classic sugar cookie recipe, I highly recommend giving this shortbread cookie a try this holiday season. (Don’t add the orange zest or star anise for a neutral flavor.)
It makes quite a big batch so I usually bake half of the dough straight away and freeze the other half to thaw and bake later in the season. The baked cookies keep for up to 10 days in an airtight container, and they are quite sturdy, which makes them excellent for holiday gifting. Pair them with your favorite tea bags and a beautiful holiday mug and you have the perfect homemade gift.