By Ann Boyd

Butter Toffee Crunch Shortbread: The Miracle Christmas Cookie

I suffer from, as my friend Carrie describes it, a Christmas Disorder. Once December rolls around, I am seized by the urge to dive headlong into all things Christmas — gifts and music and trees, oh my! But at the very top of my list is a desire to bake cookies, make candies, and generally find ways to squeeze as much cinnamon sugar and buttered nuts into my diet as possible.

However, like all of you, I am also leading a Regular Life and cannot abandon all work and family duties to indulge in my obsession. For readers of The Well, December is chock-full of end-of-semester tasks that can obscure holiday festivities. There must be room for some Christmas cheer, though, and this cookie is my secret weapon.

Butter Toffee Crunch Shortbread lives at the center of the Venn diagram of "extremely delicious" and "high yield" and "low hands-on time." At Christmastime, I make batch after batch of this shortbread, giving it away as gifts and never getting tired of nibbling on a piece while packing it up. The recipe is infinitely variable, responding well to many different types of mix-ins (it's our favorite way of using up leftover Halloween candy). But most of all, it is delicious. My brother christened these "stick of butter cookies" for good reason — their buttery richness makes them a favorite treat in our family.

On a more serious note: I was wakeful in the middle of the night recently, worrying about all the things on my task list. As I prayed through the stresses in my life, I sensed a reminder to attend to those things that are most important — attentiveness to my loved ones, meaningful work, prayerful Advent reflection. How can I keep focus on Emmanuel — God with us! — rather than on all the peripheral window dressings of the season? Although most of the things on my compulsive Christmas Disorder list didn't make the "most important" cut, I knew that having some cookies on hand helps us all to enter fully into the celebration — after all, we celebrate with our bodies and with food! This recipe provides maximum embodied joy with a minimum of hands-on time — a gift for this time of year. Enjoy!

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Butter-Toffee Crunch Shortbread

Adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley. (Notes below.)

¾ lb butter (3 sticks), room temperature
6 tablespoons superfine sugar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
2 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
⅔ cup rice flour
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup chopped toffee bits
¾ cup butterscotch morsels

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter a 9″×13″ pan, then line it with parchment paper, leaving a 1″ overhang on the two long sides. Set aside.

Cream butter together with the sugars. In a separate bowl, combine flours and salt. Slowly add flour mixture to butter until just combined. (This will give your stand mixer a workout. If you’re doing it by hand, Regan Daley recommends mixing in the last bit of flour with your hands.) Add in the toffee bits and butterscotch chips; mix until distributed throughout.

Press dough into the prepared pan using your fingers and the heel of your hand — don’t stress about getting it all perfectly even, just do your best. Smooth it with the back of a spoon, then prick it all over with a fork. Bake for 45 minutes, then take it out and prick it all over again. Return to the oven for 15 minutes, then remove.

This shortbread cools into a very firm cookie, so you’ll need to cut it while it is still warm. Let shortbread cool for 7 or 8 minutes after removing it from the oven. Then lift it up by the parchment paper and transfer to a cutting board (no need to remove parchment). Using a chef’s knife, make two long slices lengthwise, dividing it into three long rectangles. Then slice across the rectangles into 1″ squares (approximately). Regan recommends wiping off the blade between slices so as to cut down on any tearing that might occur when sticky bits grab onto the blade, and this does help sometimes.

Leave the shortbread to cool, then package in an airtight container. These cookies also freeze very well, which sometimes helps reduce the pre-breakfast nibbling temptation.

Yields about 66 cookies.

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Variations.

As I said above, the variations are practically endless. I have successfully made batches with:

  • chocolate chips
  • chopped up candy bars (we call these "candy bar bars" at our house"
  • white chocolate chips and gingerbread spices (a tablespoon or two of molasses deepens the gingerbread flavor)
  • chocolate chips + replacing part of the flour with cocoa powder
  • drizzling any variations with a powdered sugar glaze
  • drizzling any variations with melted chocolate

I could also envision citrus zest, chopped nuts, dried herbs (sage or rosemary), sprinkles, or other flavorings. I have struggled to make a peanut butter version — let me know if you have success. Dried fruits sometimes work, but they can add unwelcome moisture to the dough. My next experiment that I'm considering: white chocolate chips and chopped peppermint candies, possibly glazed with chocolate.

Notes on ingredients.

  • Rice flour can be found pretty easily in the baking aisle in grocery stores. Sometimes you need to look in the organic/health food aisle. I’ve been using Bob’s Red Mill White Rice Flour in my recipes these days. You can also use cornstarch in a pinch — the cookies won't have exactly the same crunchy texture but they will still be delicious.
  • Toffee bits can often be found in the baking aisle of grocery stores. You’re looking for those Heath or Skor baking bits. Frankly, I find them to be a little pricey, especially with the multiple batches I make, so I buy bags of those mini Heath bars instead. There’s a little bit of unwrapping involved, but kids can help with that (if they can demonstrate some self-restraint with the goods!). Fifteen little Heath bars, chopped up, yields ¾ cup.
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About the Author

Ann has worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since 1997, exploring her interests and gifts in music, teaching, and spiritual formation. These days, Ann spends free moments writing fiction and baking shortbread. She and her husband Jon live in Chicago with their two teenage daughters. Ann is the managing editor of The Well.

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