Lightly Gingered Shortbread Cookies with Anjou Pear and Ginger Preserves
It's the Holiday Season, and what's more reminiscent of holiday goodies than cookies? Cookies... you bake them, you love them and you share them.
Shortbread is a ubiquitous confection during Christmas time in Scotland, where shortbread biscuits originated. Shortbread didn't become the delicate, buttery, not-too-sweet cookies we love, until Mary Queen of Scots popularized the transformation of the medieval sweetened, hard bread called rusk, into a wedge shaped biscuit spiced with aromatic caraway seeds, in the 16th century. This Scottish staple has been more modernized in the centuries since, and is a lovely addition to your holiday cookie rotation.
These cookies are fun and uncomplicated to make. You only need flour, butter, sugar, a lemon, 3 pears, fresh ginger and vanilla extract. They're rolled cookies, rather than drop cookies, meaning you roll out the dough and cut it into shapes.
The lemon, I think, is very important to this recipe. When you cook pears, the flavor fades quite easily. Adding the lemon juice to the pears restores the tartness, and enhances the natural flavor of the pear. Also, fresh ginger is beautifully spicy, but has kind of a lemony flavor as well. The lemon zest in the cookie dough accentuates the ginger flavor, which like pear, tends to weaken as it cooks. Please don't forget the lemon in these cookies!
Ginger Pear Preserve:
3 Anjou Pears (It's best if they aren't extremely ripe)
A piece of ginger; approximately 1 ½" at the widest x 2 ½" long
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
The juice of half a lemon
Clean, core, peel and cut the pears. You can cut the pears into small pieces, about 1/4" cubes; the pieces needn't be perfect, just as long as they're uniformly cut. Place the pears, and the 2/3 cup of sugar in a medium saucepan. Wash and peel the ginger; scrape the skin off with the edge of a spoon (for a picture tutorial please refer to this recipe post). Rinse off any leftover loose skin. Grate the ginger into the saucepan with a fine grater or microplane. Squeeze the ginger juice into the saucepan before disposing of the coarse and fibrous pulp. Zest the whole lemon, and reserve the zest in a bowl to use in the cookie dough later. Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze the juice from one half into the saucepan.
Bring the ingredients to a rolling boil, reduce to medium heat, and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until it starts to thicken, then stir continuously. Reduce heat, and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
2 ¼ cups of all purpose (unbleached) flour + some for rolling out the dough
1 cup (2 sticks) of salted butter
½ cup of packed light brown sugar
A pinch of salt (about 1/8 tsp.)
1 tsp. of lemon zest
1 tbsp. grated ginger (a piece about 4" long)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 325 °F. Make sure your butter warms up some, and becomes soft and easy to work with.
Cream the butter and brown sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy (about 1 minute), on a high medium speed; this can be done with a hand mixer as well.
Wash, peel and grate the ginger in the same fashion as before. Add 1 tbsp. of grated ginger, the lemon zest and the *vanilla extract to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix the butter and sugar mixture until everything is combined. Add 2 cups of flour and mix just until everything is combined.
*I'd like to point out that this vanilla is a gift from our amazing friend Angie, from Angie's Crafty Stuff. She made it, from scratch! She infused real vanilla beans with bourbon. It's got such a deep, full flavor, and it is so delicious! Thank you so much Angie! Okay, we're done gushing!
Flour a clean work surface with ¼ cup + an 1/8 cup of flour. Turn the cookie dough out onto the floured surface and knead the dough until all of the flour is combined. Pour a little flour into a bowl to use as needed while you're rolling out the dough. Bring the cookie dough into a large ball and cut the ball in half. Add a bit of flour to the surface and to the top of the ball. Roll the dough out to about a ¼" thickness (the rolled dough's diameter should be about 12")
Now you may choose the shape of your cookies. We used the most adorable *pear shaped cookie cutter. You can use a circle cutter or any shape of your choosing. You could also just cut the cookies into 'fingers' rectangular shapes, with a knife.
*This cookie cutter was a gift from our very own Jan, who knows we will get much use out of it. Thank you Jan!
Once you've cut the cookies out, carefully transfer them to a nonstick, ungreased cookie sheet (preferably prepared with a silicone baking mat) with a spatula. I arranged 12, 2 ¼ x 3 inch cookies on a sheet. Shortbread doesn't spread much, so they don't need to be positioned much more than an inch apart. Now you can start making the indentations for the preserves in the cookies. Dip the back of a measuring spoon (tsp.) in a bit of flour, and gently press it into the cookie, and swirl it around to make the depression wider.
Spoon the ginger pear preserves into the cookies using a demitasse spoonful. Be sure not to over fill the cookies; you wouldn't want all of that tasty filling to bubble over the edges of the cookie and burn! Lightly prick the cookies several times with a fork, to prevent the cookies from puffing up while baking.
Bake the shortbread for about 15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Remove the sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to cool enough to handle with a spatula (a couple of minutes). Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to thoroughly cool the shortbread.
A Little Bit About How to Treat the Dough:
Roll out the other ball and cut more cookies. Pull all of the scraps together, roll and cut. Try to limit the amount of re-rolling, so the dough doesn't get tough.
You don't need to chill the dough between batches. It didn't prove to have any advantages or disadvantages over the room temperature dough.
The number of cookies you get from this recipe depends on the size and shape of your cutter. I got 24 pear cookies + 4 more cookies that I hand rolled into balls, and pressed into rounds, to prevent over-working the dough.
We hope you've enjoyed making these cookies, and their flavor is to your satisfaction. We think you'll like them!
In case you're worried, these cookies will not 'go all pear shaped' ;)
-The Grey's Posy Team