We’re all still eating cookies, yes? This has been such a fun cookie year for me, and I keep happily finding reasons to make more. In this hazy week between Christmas/Chanukah and New Year’s, I find that “lunch” consists of grazing on cookies throughout the afternoons on most days, and I can’t really say that I have any aspiration to do things differently next year. I’d estimate that my body composition is approximately 83% cookie at this point in the holiday season, which is probably in line with the average person. Yep, I’ll go with that. ?
But… I have a dirty secret… I miss quarantine. Don’t get me wrong– being separated from friends and family, not traveling, not eating out, everything cancelled was all really, really hard. But as an introvert, I admit that I didn’t hate it. I was lucky enough to work from home for over a year, and I know not everyone got to do that. I kinda loved my little Covid cocoon, a sliver of stillness in my otherwise hustle-and-bustle lifestyle in Silicon Valley (which I do not love). I got to spend sooo much time in the kitchen during those months, both baking and cooking– that never, ever got old for me. (Though I was probably one of the few bakers who had no interest in making sourdough…) Then came the holidays and the winter wave of Covid, when everything re-shuttered after opening briefly at the end of the summer. One of my favorite things that took place that season to keep us busy and engaged in the food world was the slew of baking webinars and demos offered by so many chefs, bakers, and bloggers, ranging from holiday cookie baking with Sarah Kieffer to highlighting female pastry chefs on Cherry Bombe to Michael’s Solomonov’s series on Israeli cuisine, which I couldn’t wait for each week! I got to watch and listen to these happily during my lunch break quite often in November and December, and I fondly remember thinking how much I appreciated these wonderful food people coming into my home to brighten a time that was otherwise rather lonely.
One of my absolute favorite webinars was with Susan Spungen, whose cookbook Open Kitchen I had recently purchased. Each year she comes up with such creative and beautiful holiday cookies, and I was just captivated watching her make her Buckwheat Hazelnut Cookies that year. She helped inspire my cookie boxes that year, and every year since. In 2021, when things were normal-ish, I was back at work wrapping up our high school semester, wistfully missed those holiday Zoom specials. Although that was over, I was eagerly following along with Susan’s weekly newsletter subscription, Susanality, and I couldn’t wait to see what kind of cookies she would create that year. I couldn’t have fathomed these gorgeous, aromatic slice-and-bake shortbread cookies laced with Earl Grey tea and blood orange zest, drizzled with a brilliant pink blood orange glaze– I was mesmerized. These were definitely going in my cookie boxes! I made them successfully, and although I had a hard time getting sanding sugar to stick to the edges, I was kind of obsessed with them. This dough is heavenly, perfumed with citrus, herbal tea notes, and vanilla. My only snafu was the sugar issue, which probably could be remedied with a swish of egg white, but then I had another idea– how stunning would this recipe be as snowflake cutouts? Almost all holiday snowflake cookies are sugar cookies with white or pastel icing, and I felt that this recipe would make for some stunning, colorful, and unexpected snowflakes. I omitted the sugar, though I suppose I could have just sprinkled it on top, and you can certainly opt to add it back.
The instructions below are for the snowflakes. If you wish to make the recipe into its original slice-and-bake format, simply form the dough into a log about 2″ in diameter and 7″ long, roll it in sanding sugar (consider brushing it with egg white first), and wrap it in parchment and twist the ends. To keep it round so the bottom doesn’t flatten out, cut a cardboard tube (such as from a roll of paper towels) lengthwise and place the log inside it. Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Slice the dough into ¼”-thick rounds and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake a couple of minutes less than the snowflakes. Proceed with decorating.
Wishing you a happy, healthy, cookie-filled 2023! 🙂
Earl Grey Shortbread Snowflakes with Blood Orange Glaze
Adapted from Susan Spungen’s Susanality newsletter
Yields about 16-24 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cutters
This is a double-batch of Susan Spungen’s original quantities.
For the shortbread dough:
- 2 cups (256g) all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup (28g) cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 6 Earl Grey teabags, or 2 tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea
- Zest of 4 blood oranges*
- 1½ teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 1 cup (2 sticks/16 tablespoons/227g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
- Black or white sanding sugar, optional
*You can substitute 2 large navel oranges
For the glaze:
- 1½ cup (185g) confectioners’ sugar
- Juice of 4 blood oranges**, about ½ cup, pulp strained out
- 2 teaspoons melted unsalted butter
- 1-3 teaspoons lemon juice
- Water, if needed, to thicken the glaze
**If using a navel orange, measure out ¼ cup and boil this down per the instructions below, then add a drop or two of red food coloring if you want the bright pink icing color
Make the shortbread dough:
The dough is very easy to make, though it feels fragile to handle at first. Whisk the flour, cornstarch, and salt in a medium mixing.
Place the sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Open the tea bags and pour the loose tea over the sugar. Zest the blood oranges directly over the bowl so you get every last bit, then pulse until everything is finely ground together. Add the vanilla and butter and continue to pulse until all the ingredient are well blended, about 30 seconds, scraping the bowl as well– it will look like speckled butter. Add the flour mixture and pulse until the dough forms a rough ball around the blade.
Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface with a flexible spatula. Gently bring it together into a ball with your hands. Flatten the dough into a disk about 1″ thick and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate it for at least 2 hours, though I recommend overnight to allow the flavors to meld together.
Bake the cookies:
Preheat an oven to 350°F and place a baking rack in the center position. Line two rimless baking sheets with parchment paper.
Retrieve the dough from the fridge and let it thaw at room temperature for about 5 minutes. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about ¼”. Cut out snowflakes with the cookie cutters of your choice; I used mostly medium-sized ones about 3″ in diameter, plus a few smaller ones to use up the last scraps of dough.
Transfer enough snowflakes (about 2″ apart) to fill the first prepared baking sheet and chill it in the fridge for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are firm. Put cookies of roughly the same size on the baking pan so they all need the same amount of baking time. (Smaller ones will require less time.)
Bake the cookies for about 12-15 minutes, or until the edges of the snowflakes are golden. Transfer the pan to a metal cooling rack and let the cookies cool for about 10 minutes, then slide the pan out from under the parchment and let them cool completely on the rack. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.
Make the glaze & decorate the cookies:
While the cookies are cooling, make the glaze. Put the confectioners’ sugar in a small mixing bowl. Pour the blood orange juice into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Simmer the juice until it has reduced to a syrupy 1 tablespoon, about 2-7 minutes. Watch it carefully, as it will go from syrup to almost evaporated in an instant towards the end of cooking. Scrape it right away into the confectioners’ sugar, then add the melted butter. Whisk everything together (it will be dry, pasty, and chunky at first), and add a teaspoon of lemon juice if needed to loosen it up. Continue whisking and add more lemon juice (or water) until the icing is smooth and all bits of sugar have been dissolved. It should fall in ribbons back into the bowl when you lift the whisk. Let it sit for about 10-15 minutes to thicken slightly.
Place the cookies directly onto the metal rack and place this over a sheet of parchment. Drizzle the snowflakes with the bright pink glaze in a zigzag pattern or any way you like. Let the cookies sit for a few hours so the glossy icing dries fully before stacking them.
Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 5 days. They can be stacked without ruining the icing and they ship well.
Make ahead: The dough can be made up to 3 days ahead, and the glaze can be made 1 day ahead and stored in a small airtight container at room temperature, and a couple more days in the fridge. The color will even deepen a bit as it sits. You may need to add a few drops of water to loosen it back up after firming up in the fridge.
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2022.