On the fourth day of Christmas… my true love gave to me… Cinnamon Hot & Orange Shortbread.
Long ago, in a far away world called the University of Washington School of Art, there was a lone fiber artist who unapologetically extolled the power and deep meaning of color to her comrades who believed with all their hearts that any color other than gray was an indication of naiveté and gross pandering to the unenlightened masses, for whom beauty was—GASP—a virtue.
Yup, that was me, and it was the late 90’s. My hand-dyed art quilts featured then abhorrent colors, such as chartreuse and hot pink. And for the final two years it took to complete my degree in surface design, I held my ground. I’m happy to say I never used the color gray in any of my work (although it can be very beautiful in the right context). Here’s a detail of my senior thesis work.
And as I have learned since then, you can take the girl out of quilting, but you can’t take quilting out of the girl. Thus, when it came to this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Silver Bells collection, I was determined to figure out a way to “piece” a cookie. I pondered this for several days, playing with it in my mind. The trick was to make it easy. It just isn’t practical to spend 20 minutes creating EACH cookie.
What I came up with are two blocks of different color shortbread dough, each cut lengthwise into the exact same irregular width strips, then alternate pieces of one block are swapped with the same pieces of the other block. This is much the same way that a simple striped quilt block is constructed. But the quilt block doesn’t taste nearly so good.
As to the color, I decided to keep this first attempt simple, with only two colors, rose and cream. In this way, the pattern takes center stage. I like Christmas cookies to be small, so that I don’t feel like a glutton when I eat half a dozen at a time. But larger cookies are an interesting option here as well. Joining two smaller cookies to make a larger cookie creates an even more intriguing pattern.
And as for the flavor, there was a tiny bottle of cinnamon oil in my baking cupboard that looked dejected from long lack of use. It’s the same flavor in those red cinnamon hot candies. That seemed just the right memorable flavor to pair with these pretty cookies. Oh wait, I said PRETTY. That’s very close to BEAUTIFUL. Yes, well, you can make them gray instead, if that rings your jingle bells.
With Love and Gratitude: These cookies are dedicated to my Mennonite grandmother, Mary Pullman Stahl, who never turned anyone away from her door or her heart and who created 30 beautiful quilts in her 100th year on this planet. She would be “tickled pink” that I figured out a way to make the quilt and eat it too.
Mary’s Christmas Quilt Cookies
These delicious and very pretty cookies take you by surprise on the first bite, and then you find it hard to stop eating them. They make the perfect gift for someone special who really appreciates the care you put into them. I’m sure even Santa Claus himself would be delighted.
2½ cups King Arthur unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch
1½ cups unsalted butter, cool room temperature (3 sticks)
1 cup sugar
finely grated zest of 2 large oranges
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼-½ teaspoon cinnamon oil (try ¼ teaspoon on your first batch; it’s very strong)
red food coloring (gel or liquid)
fine sanding sugar or luster
- In a large mixing bowl, sift flour and cornstarch. Reserve.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, orange zest, and salt. Add vanilla and cinnamon oil, and incorporate.
- Add the flour mixture and mix on very slow speed very briefly, just until a dough forms.
- Remove the dough and weigh it. Add half the dough (by weight) back to the mixer and incorporate a few drops of red food coloring.
- Form each portion of dough into a 12-inch long by 2¼-inch wide by 1-inch deep log. Wrap in plastic wrap and frig for at least 2 hours. (Yes, I had the help of custom made metal forms.)
- When the dough is very firm, remove from the frig. Using a long thin knife, cut each log exactly the same into several lengthwise sections. Reassemble each log to its original size by swapping alternate sections with opposite colored dough strips. Press the strips tightly together without distorting the shape of the log. (See photos.)
- Rewrap the logs in plastic wrap and chill again for at least 2 hours, or as long as a couple of days.
- When you are ready to bake, remove one log at a time from the frig and slice cookies widthwise into ¼-inch thick slices.
- Arrange cookies, ½-inch apart, on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. If desired, sprinkle with fine sanding sugar or luster.
- Bake at 325° for about 20-22 minutes, rotating pans at the halfway point to ensure even browning.
- Remove from the oven, immediately loosen each cookie with a thin spatula, and set on a wire rack to cool.
- Store airtight in layers, each layer separated by wax paper, in a cookie tin, in a cool, dry place. These cookies improve with age. They keep for 3-4 weeks.
Makes about 8 dozen, 2½-inch by 1½-inch cookies.
Follow along as we bake this year’s cookie collection, and check out our past two collections:
- Season 3: Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Silver Bells
- Season 2: Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night
- Season 1: Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Deck the Halls
Copyright 2010 Susan S. Bradley. All Rights Reserved.