Shortbread Christmas Cookies


Happy High-Seas Holidays from your Galley Pirates!  Caroline and Kristin got in the holiday spirit this weekend by baking the obligatory Christmas cut-out cookies.  But do we do ANYTHING the obligatory way?  ARRRRR, no!  So nautical cookie cutters it was, and Captain Peter’s grandmother’s Dutch butter cookie recipe.

We will be honest with our readership: this was not easy.  Dutch butter cookies are essentially shortbread — flaky, crumbly, four-ingredient, don’t-handle-it-too-much shortbread.  So to roll it out thin and cut shapes to be baked and iced was insanity.  But it was fun…we commandeered our friend Alex’s galley and spent a rainy afternoon coaxing crumbly dough into maritime masterpieces.  In a few weeks, we will publish Ruth Weathersby’s far more cooperative iced cookie recipe, so if you can resist making these in shapes for Epiphany do so.  DO make them — they are absurdly satisfying with a cuppa — but go with simple press cookies or bars instead per the alternative instructions below, and use Mom Weathersby’s genius for the decorative matters at the next major cookie cutter holiday.

Dutch Butter Cookies

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1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
Heaping 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour

If decorating:
About 2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Food coloring and either additional vanilla, lemon juice, or clear alcohol like vodka

Not even going to show you the acrobatics that brought us to this point … it involved assuming a five-point stance not unsuitable for a capsize drill in order to “cream” butter and sugar until fluffy … by hand.  So do that: cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add the baking soda, then the flour all at once.  Combine as best you can with the spoon or mixer, then wash your paws and get down in there to work the rest of the butter and flour together by hand until you’re really sure it’s as combined as you can get it.  As you can see in the bowl, that’s still pretty dry and crumbly.  Nonetheless, wad it into cohesive chunks as best you can.

By the way, perils of galley work … keep an eye on your idle rolling pin!  And this was in the slip…

Now if you’re taking the easy (smart … recommended) way out, simply roll small handfuls of the dough into a ball the size of a large marble and then flatten them a bit on the parchment covered cookie sheet with the palm of your hand, paying no mind to the cracking around the edges.  Or press the dough in its entirety into a 9×13″ type pan.  If you’re looking for a challenge….roll the dough out to about 1/4″ or less in thickness, which will require quite a bit of re-glueing, smoothing, patting, coaxing, perhaps swearing (we are pirates, after all).  All in the Christmas spirit!  Then cut out your sailboats, shells, anchors and lighthouses.  Due to the delicate nature of all this, we cut them out on parchment paper and simply pulled the excess dough away rather than trying to move them.

Slide the parchment with the cookies onto a cookie sheet and into your preheated 300 degree oven.  We like to heat our oven to about 100 degrees hotter — so 400 in this case — then immediately turn it down after re-closing the door.  SO much heat is lost while you lurch about getting things in there that this seems to get the baking started at as close to the desired and even temperature of 300 as possible.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, watching carefully and removing once edges barely start to brown.  Remove from the cookie sheet (leaving them on the parchment) to cool, and reload that cookie sheet!  This is a galley challenge with Christmas cookies….at best you can do maybe eight at a time.  So that’s a lot of batches … and a long, lazy, festive afternoon down below.  By the way, if you’ve done the press-cookie version, bars, or anything thicker than these 1/4″ beauties, give them more like 20 minutes to bake, again watching for browning and a dry looking surface.

While the cookies cool, mix together the powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and just enough milk to get a spreadable consistency until smooth.  When cool, frost the cookies, then allow to sit until dry.  We found popping them in the ice box moved this along; luckily Alex had emptied his ice box!  I guess Caroline called ahead and encouraged him to drink all the beer.

To decorate, we wanted to make “painted” cookies rather than add more goopy, piped icing; recipes online suggested mixing food color with either vanilla or lemon juice, but the vanilla seemed to dull and darken colors and we weren’t looking for lemon flavor.  Reasoning that vanilla extract is mostly alcohol and wanting a colorless base, we opted for vodka and it seemed to work well.  Thanks to Taylor for bringing an airplane bottle of Absolut back and leaving it in the booze locker.  Add a few drops of the desired color to 1/2 or so teaspoon of vodka.  And yes, Alex, that is your chart table being used as a painting station; we thought to put down paper immediately after taking this photo.

When the white base frosting has dried, and using CLEAN paintbrushes (yes, we rejected the ones we had, which had been used for turpentine, block lubricant, and heaven knows what else before rattling around in the tool drawer for ages, and ran out to the drugstore for food-friendly new ones) — paint the cookies, adding any other embellishments your pirate-elf heart desires.  Leave these at the bottom of the companionway with a bottle of rum for Old Saint Lafitte and see what you get in your foulie pockets on Christmas morning.  And merriest of Christmases to you all, from your Galley Pirates.

2 thoughts on “Shortbread Christmas Cookies

    • It was fun for us co-pirates to cook together again! It had been a long time! And Alex and Taylor were SO NICE in letting us use their galley!

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