December has always been my favorite month. Not only does it make official the winter solstice, but it's cramped with the celebrations of Christmas and New Year's Eve, as well as my birthday and that of my brother. It's a busy month. So, of course, I've taken on more with a December Bake-A-Thon, the brain child of Champa of Versatile Vegetarian Kitchen, a friend who spends far more time baking than I ever have. A group of five intrepid bakers (see the list after the recipe) have pledged to prepare and post a recipe every day throughout December.
Not everything I will feature will be traditional to the season, but shortbread stars seemed like the best place to start, especially since I got a very late start tonight in pulling this post together. This is the very easiest, most foolproof shortbread recipe I've ever baked. I guarantee you will have no problems with it. In fact, I am so sure it will be a success, that if you have a failure, I'll come over and bake them for you, even if you live in Tahiti, although I will have to kiss my winter solstice goodbye.
Brown Sugar Spice Shortbread Stars - Adapted from the Scotch Shortbread recipe on page 757 of Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook - Edited by Ruth Berolzheimer
Yields approximately 36 2-in cookies.
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1/2 pound salted butter (2 sticks), softened, almost mushy
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar, sifted unless free of grit and/or lumps
2 2/3 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
(The spices are optional if you prefer a traditional shortbread.)
Preheat oven 325 ° F
In a very large bowl with a large and wide wooden spoon, cream butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy as frosting. Beat in vanilla extract. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl until spices are well blended. Add 1/4 dry ingredients into butter mixture, beating and working it in until it is full incorporated and smooth. Continue this process 3 more times. You will find that the dough will be very stiff and harder to work by the last addition, but patience and extra elbow grease will get it to the right consistency. The dough will ultimately be very moist and pliable, working up easily into a ball.
Prepare a work surface with a generous dusting of flour. Flour your rolling pin. Cut dough ball in half. Cover other half with plastic to prevent drying. Shape a new ball on the work surface. Roll out dough slowly and carefully to a thickness of approximately 1/4 inch. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter (of any shape of your choosing), cut dough and transfer each cookie to either a non-stick cookie sheet or a regular sheet that is prepared with a light greasing of non-stick spray or a ply of baking parchment paper. (Any dough scraps can easily be gathered up to roll out and cut again.) Space cookies 2-inches apart. Place on center rack of oven and bake for 20* minutes or until cookies are lightly brown. Remove to cooling rack. Serve as they are or dust with powdered sugar and/or additional cinnamon; or decorate with a glaze or royal icing.
* Because these cookies are thin, the bottoms will brown more quickly than the top, so even though they may not seem dark enough at 20 minutes, test one to see. You can experiment, too, with a higher oven rack position. They will harden as they cool, too. You could also roll them thicker for a more substantial cookie, increasing the baking time incrementally.
See why my other baking friends are up to their elbows in flour: