December 21, 2018

Maple Walnut Shortbread

It's been a crazy week. My bathroom was flooded because my upstairs neighbor literally smashed his toilet to smithereens (I'm still confused), I almost adopted at least two cats (they already found good homes but I'll keep you updated), and I stuck it out in my office until all but two other people on my floor left for the holidays. Fortunately, it was a week blessed with plenty of good food and edible gifts, and the cookies were the best part. I love how Christmas is a great excuse to get creative with your cookies and basically force people to take them off your hands, which means I've been testing out plenty of new recipes. These maple walnut cookies are one of my favorites since they're just so warm and festive, plus it's incredibly easy to crank out a big batch for all your friends, family, and coworkers.

The cookie dough starts by creaming the butter and sugar together. I use 2 sticks of softened butter to speed up the process, but instead of normal sugar I used powdered sugar and maple syrup. The maple syrup is because these are maple cookies and that flavor has to come from somewhere. The powdered sugar makes a more delicate cookie with that signature shortbread texture. I also add a splash of vanilla since vanilla makes everything better.

The dry ingredients include flour, cornstarch, finely chopped walnuts, and salt. The cornstarch also contributes to a more delicate cookie because it counts as a dry ingredient but doesn't have gluten (which gets tough the more you mix it) like flour does. The walnuts should be toasted to enhance their flavor and chopped finely so you still have delicate, crumbly cookies. Larger chunks of walnut would still taste fine but wouldn't be distributed evenly and add random pockets of crunch.

You may notice this recipe doesn't use two ingredients you would normally find in cookies: eggs and leavening. Shortbread typically doesn't have eggs in it since it's more crumbly than chewy, and there's no reason to change a good thing. I always get excited about eggless cookie dough since there's less of a chance I'll get sick when I inevitably eat it by the spoonful, but keep in mind that raw flour can also get you sick so don't go too crazy. Shortbread also doesn't have leavening because you don't want them to rise or spread too much; they should just have that short, crumbly texture.

The dough needs to chill for a few hours before baking to let it set up and keep its shape when baked. I find that slice and bake cookies are easiest since you can just roll the dough into a log or two, refrigerate it, and slice the cookies into rounds. This eliminates the need for rolling dough everywhere (which can make it tougher) and you can slice off just as much as you need, in case you only want to snack on a few.

To dress these cookies up a bit, you can whip up a quick maple glaze with some maple syrup and powdered sugar. That would also give you a way to stick some additional walnuts on top. I'm also a fan of just keeping them simple, the way shortbread is intended to be. Another option is to roll the dough into other shapes; just because slice and bake logs are easier doesn't mean it's not worth it to roll the dough out and cut it into dippable rectangles or even fun creative shapes. If you avoid the glaze, this makes the cookies even more portable, perfect for gift-giving or group snacking.

2 Sticks Butter, Softened
1/3 Cup Powdered Sugar
1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
1 tsp Vanilla
2 Cups Flour
1/4 Cup Cornstarch
1 Cup Finely Chopped Toasted Walnuts
1/2 tsp Salt

Beat the butter, powdered sugar, and maple syrup together until fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Add the vanilla. Whisk the flour, cornstarch, walnuts, and salt together, then stir into the dough until just combined.

Roll the dough into a 1.5" wide log and chill for at least two hours.

Heat the oven to 350F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Slice the dough into scant 1/4" thick rounds. Transfer to the prepared trays and bake for 12 minutes or until just golden on the edges.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Food Network and The View from Great Island

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