Eric Akis: Two recipes for shortbread — cranberry pecan and Stilton walnut

Eric Akis

I found time to do holiday baking recently and wanted to make shortbread, but could not decide whether it should be savoury or sweet. Because the style of shortbread I like to bake is not difficult to make, I opted to make both kinds — and was pleased I did.

This style of shortbread is called “whipped,” where the ingredients are simply blended together in a stand mixer, creating pliable dough that’s easy to shape.

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In today’s recipes, that simply meant forming the dough into logs, chilling them until firm, slicing them into rounds, then baking those rounds into tender, rich shortbread.

My sweet shortbread is flecked with chopped bits of dried cranberries and toasted pecans, and flavoured with orange and vanilla. The cookies will look nice on a holiday cookie tray. You can also package them up and give them as an edible gift.

My savoury shortbread blends crumbled Stilton cheese and chopped walnuts into a sugar-free, but butter-rich, dough. These shortbread are rich and divine and could be served on their own with wine or port, or served alongside a cheese or charcuterie board.

They could also be packaged and given as an edible gift.

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread

These are tender, buttery rounds of shortbread with bits of dried cranberry and toasted, chopped pecans.

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus chilling time

Cooking time: 22 to 25 minutes, per sheet

Makes: about 54 to 60 cookies

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup pecan halves, lightly toasted (see Note)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cornstarch

1/4 tsp salt

2 tsp finely grated orange zest

1 1/2 cups (3/4 lb.) butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup icing sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Place cranberries on a cutting board, chop into small pieces, then set in a medium bowl. Chop the pecans into small pieces, then add them to cranberries. Mix in the flour, cornstarch, salt and zest.

Place the butter, icing sugar and vanilla in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until very light. Mix in the flour mixture until well combined.

Turn the dough onto a work surface and gather and form into a ball. Now cut the ball of dough in half. Roll and shape each half dough into a log that’s one foot long and about two inches wide. Wrap each log of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until logs are firm, about two hours (see Eric’s options).

Set an oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Line two large baking sheets (mine were 18-by-13 inches) with parchment paper.

Unwrap and cut one log of dough into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick rounds and set them on one of the baking sheets, spacing each cookie one inch or so apart. Bake the cookies 22 to 25 minutes, or until very, very lightly golden around the edges. Cool the cookies to room temperature on a baking rack. Slice and bake the second log of dough as you did the first.

Store cookies in an airtight container in a cool place. They’ll keep at least two weeks.

Note: To toast pecans, place them in a non-stick skillet and set over medium heat. Heat, swirling the pan from time to time, until aromatic and lightly toasted, about three to four minutes. Cool before chopping.

Eric’s options: You can make the logs of dough a day before slicing and baking. Keep refrigerated until needed. They could also be frozen. If frozen, thaw logs before slicing and baking.

Stilton and Walnut Shortbread

Serve these melt-in-your-mouth savoury shortbread with a cheese or charcuterie board. Or, simply snack on them while you sip red wine or port.

Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus chilling time

Cooking time: 15 to 17 minutes, per sheet

Makes: about 60 small shortbread

1/2 cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted (see Note 1)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup crumbled Stilton cheese (see Note 2)

• pinch coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (optional; do not use dried)

1/2 lb. butter, at room temperature

Set the walnuts on a cutting board, finely chop and then set in a medium bowl. Mix in the flour, baking powder and salt. Now mix in the cheese, pepper and rosemary, if using.

Place the butter in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until very light. Add the flour mixture and beat until well combined.

Turn the dough onto a work surface and gather and form into a ball. Now cut the ball of dough in half. Roll and shape each half dough into a log that’s 10 inches long and about one and half inches wide.

Wrap each log of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until logs are firm, about two to three hours (see Eric’s options).

Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 350 F. Line two large baking sheets (mine were 18-by-13 inches) with parchment paper.

Unwrap a log of dough and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Arrange the rounds on one of the baking sheets, spacing them about one inch or so apart.

Bake the shortbread 15 to 17 minutes, or until very, very light golden around the edges. Remove from oven and cool shortbread to room temperature on a baking rack. Slice and bake the second log of dough as you did the first.

Shortbread can be kept in an airtight container in a cool place. They’ll keep at least one week.

Note 1: To toast walnuts, place them in a non-stick skillet and set over medium heat. Heat, swirling the pan from time to time, until aromatic and lightly toasted, about three to four minutes. Cool before chopping.

Note 2: Trim cheese of any dark rind before crumbling it. Seventy to 75 grams of Stilton cheese, trimmed of that rind, should yield the amount of crumbled cheese needed.

Eric’s options: You can make the logs of dough a day before slicing and baking. Keep refrigerated until needed. They could also be frozen. If frozen, thaw logs before slicing and baking.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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