Theme and Variations

On my snow day, I went a little kitchen-crazy. I have this recipe, from ages ago, entitled “variations on chocolate shortbread.” Honestly, I don’t know where I found it, but it’s what I do instead of sugar cookies (they’re fun to decorate, but I don’t enjoy making them or eating them, so I don’t.) You take a simple shortbread recipe (butter, salt, sugar, flour, maybe a little baking powder— I’ll come back with quantities), then divide the dough and flavor it different ways. Historically, I’ve divided the dough in half, done half in chocolate, half without chocolate, and then added chips to half of each half (dizzy yet?), resulting in plain (which I’m calling “classic,” because respect), chocolate chip, chocolate, and chocolate chocolate chip. It’s a good balance to the other cookies I tend to make, to have some extra chocolate stuff in the assortment.

I’ve gotten away from it, the last couple of years, because I’ve found a solid chocolate recipe I like (chocolate crackle cookies, which I call chocolate snowballs because of the powdered sugar. I have these chocolate rules, so I add white chocolate chips to half the batter and cherry chips to the other half. Because it’s awesome.) I’ve substituted other kinds of shortbread— I tried an iced red velvet variety, dried cherry. All delicious, though the red-velvet dipped in white chocolate is prettier than it is delicious, and I prioritize delicious. Also labor-saving, because I make so many kinds.

This year, I couldn’t narrow down the kinds of shortbread I wanted to make. Ginger shortbread is awesome, but I have a featured ginger cookie. I’ve done lime shortbread, but to me, that’s a summer cookie (if there’s even such a thing as a summer cookie.) But cherry shortbread, brown butter shortbread, chai-spiced shortbread, all of them were calling my name.

With an unexpected day off and the deadline for distributing my cookies at work looming, I did the recipe at 1.5 times strength, and flavored it six different ways. You heard me. When in doubt, work it out. This is how it worked out.

I made the shortbread base. I did one-third of the dough in chocolate (melt a cup of chocolate chips in the microwave, add them to the dough) and set it aside. I took the remaining 2/3s of the dough (fun with fractions!) and left 1/4 of it plain, added chopped dried cherries to 1/4 of it, added chai spices (cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, ginger and cloves) to 1/4 of it, and added chocolate chips to 1/4 of it. I also added chopped dried cherries to half of the chocolate shortbread dough.

I do Christmas cookies in slice & bake variety, so I didn’t bake them that day, but dough assembly for the six varieties (easily 10 dozen cookies) took probably less than 90 minutes. It’s a total time-saving win, and each of them is delicious in their own right.



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