It seems somehow unbelievable, but up until last year, I had never before heard of a holiday cookie exchange. Then I was invited to one, and it was like someone had thrown open the door to a whole new world of crisp, buttery delights. If you’ve never heard of a cookie exchange either, the basics are thus:
-You make a bunch of cookies.
-Other people make a bunch of cookies.
-You and those other people gather at a predetermined location to exchange a handful of each cookie in attendance.
-You leave with as many cookies as you came with, only now your cookies are made up of a glorious mix of several different types of cookies.
And I went most of my life without knowing about this magnificent event? Unfathomable. Thankfully, this year I was invited to yet another cookie exchange, and it seems as though we somehow lucked into the greatest, most creative group of cookie makers for which anyone could ever hope. When we left that cookie exchange, we had been blessed with extra-spicy ginger cookies, peanut butter Nutella cookies (how I’ve never been exposed to those little miracles before, I’ll never know), tiny little pecan pies, anise butter cookies, and something called an espresso crunch bar that I eventually had to get rid of after I found myself unable to resist its charms for the tenth time in one evening, leading me to stand in front of it whilst pointing angrily and yelling in a stern voice, “You are not the boss of me!”
A success all around, it seems.
Of course, in order to partake in a cookie exchange, one must bring along a selection of cookies, and I dutifully did my part. I’ve always been a big fan of shortbreads that have been heightened with a bit of citrus, so my choice of cookie was easily made. As an added bonus, choosing to shape the dough into logs and cut them later made for a great, simple method of breaking up my cookie preparation into a couple of laid-back evenings. One night I made the dough and shaped it, the next night I baked the cookies. The morning of the cookie exchange, I dipped the cookies in just a bit of melted chocolate, giving them a touch of something extra. It might be debatable if we really need to add extras during the holiday cookie season, but why go down that road? Make some cookies, then exchange them, gift them, or, if you are brave, leave them in your house to be enjoyed over the remaining weeks. Okay, days. Okay, day, singular. You know what? Just send the cookies to work with your spouse. It’s safer that way.
Chocolate-Dipped Lime Shortbread
Keen eyes may notice that these pictures show two types of shortbread. Because the cookie exchange I attended require each person to make 7 dozen cookies, and this recipe makes 4 dozen cookies, I doubled the recipe and made one batch of lime shortbread and one batch of ginger shortbread. To make ginger shortbread, simply add two tablespoons of finely chopped candied ginger in place of the two tablespoons of lime zest.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into smallish chunks
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and blend well. Add the flour and cornstarch and beat until well mixed. Add lime zest and mix until combined.
Dive the dough into 2 batches. Shape each batch into a log roughly 12 inches long. Wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until firm (tightly wrapped, dough can be left refrigerated for up to a week).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut dough into ¼-inch slices. Bake the cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets for 10 to 13 minutes, or until the cookies are mostly set in the middle and just starting to turn light golden brown at the edges. Prick tops of cookies with a fork (to allow steam to escape and ensure a crisp cookie), then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
When cookies have cooled, heat the chocolate on top of a double boiler until it is smooth and glossy. Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave by heating the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl in 20-second increments, stirring in between each session, until the chocolate is mostly melted. Let the chocolate sit for a minute or so to melt completely, then stir to make it smooth.
Line several baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Dip each cookie into the melted chocolate, coating it halfway. I ended up dipping each cookie by tipping the top into the chocolate and leaving the bottom mostly uncovered, because I found this method to be the easiest. Place each dipped cookie on the parchment paper and allow to the chocolate to harden completely before packing up or transporting.
Makes 4 dozen cookies.