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Icebox Shortbread Cookies

As a child, I never understood quite what my grandmother meant when she said that time goes by so quickly. Children are chronically impatient, and I was no different. I was always in a hurry to go somewhere. I craved new experiences like the body craves water or food. It was an elemental desire. Visceral.

I once wrote a short story about living in my small town, listening to the train roll through every night, seeing the boxcars covered in graffiti tags. I would fantasize about where they had been--the outskirts of big cities in vast train yards; sailing across endless flat plains of brown grass; chuffing up mountains and bellowing like a great primordial beast. The train was like a message from beyond the known world, and it fueled my restlessness.

Of course, I grew up and moved away. I have seen the Great Plains and the Rockies and the mighty Pacific Ocean. I have seen the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum and the canals of Venice. The world and its petulant inhabitants are more beautiful and sublime than I could have imagined, and I have seen so little of it. But I do notice, as I grow older, that time seems to play tricks on me. The years rush by like the train once did, and I think of my grandmother and how she was right.

I suppose I'm thinking of all this now as my family will soon gather around a big table to be together for Christmas much as we have every year for as long as I can remember. It has been a full year since I went home, which is hard to believe. Somehow I became so busy that I let an entire year pass by. Blink and it's gone.

I know we all pay lip service to "what really matters"--family, close friends. And yet, it is so easy, easier all the time, to lose sight of that and drift off into a sea of appointments and meetings and obligations. Here's to remembering the important stuff; to sloughing off what is peripheral to that.

The recipe below is one that I've been partial to for years now. I think since high school. I love it for its simplicity and astounding versatility, and it's high time I shared it with you. This is one of those recipes to keep in your back pocket--it's quick and easy and requires very few ingredients, and it allows you to experiment with different flavors. I've included some of my favorite variations below the recipe, but really the only limits are your imagination and your pantry. This recipe can easily be doubled. In fact, the original recipe makes twice as many cookies, but I prefer to make these in smaller batches so I can make several different flavors.

Other cookie recipes you might enjoy: Thumbprint Cookies, Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies, Viennese Crescents

Icebox Shortbread Cookies
Makes 25 to 30 small cookies

Beat in a stand mixer on medium speed until combined and smooth:
           1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, barely softened
           1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
           1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
There's no need to beat the butter and sugar until fluffy--you're not trying to incorporate air into the mixture; just get it nice and smooth.
           1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Scrape down the bowl and add:
           3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
           2 tablespoons cornstarch
Mix on low speed until combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

Have a sheet of parchment or wax paper ready. Scrape the dough onto the paper and roll it into a rough log about 2 inches in diameter--a little less or more is fine. Fold the bottom long edge of the paper over the log of dough. Using a plastic bowl scraper (as pictured) or some other straight edge (a thin piece of cardboard or ruler works as well), place it on the top piece of parchment. Hold this edge in place as you pull the bottom edge of the parchment away from the dough. This will form the dough into a smooth, cylindrical shape.
Wrap the dough snugly and freeze it for at least an hour or up to 3 months.

To bake, preheat the oven to 325°F. Unwrap the dough. Slice it into 1/4 to 3/8-inch rounds using a sharp knife and rolling the dough log as you slice--this helps keep the cookies round. Place the dough on a lined cookie sheet about 1 inch apart--the cookies do not spread much during baking, especially if you slice them a bit on the thick side.

Bake 13 to 15 minutes (15 minutes was perfect in my oven), rotating the baking sheets every 5 minutes. When the cookies are done, they should be dry to the touch and firm but not browned. Remove the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

Salted Chocolate Icebox Shortbread

Follow the recipe above, replacing the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons cocoa powder. Bake as directed. When cool, dip half of each cookie into melted chocolate (temper the chocolate if you like). Sprinkle a little coarse sea salt onto the chocolate. Refrigerate briefly until the chocolate hardens.

Earl Grey Icebox Shortbread

Follow the recipe above, adding the zest of one orange to the butter and sugar mixture. Add, along with the flour and cornstarch, 1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea, crushed or finely ground. Bake as directed.

Lemon Ginger Icebox Shortbread

Follow the recipe above, adding the zest of one large lemon to the butter and sugar mixture. Add, along with the flour and cornstarch, 2 tablespoons very finely chopped candied ginger (more if you like). Bake as directed. When cool, make a simple glaze from powdered sugar and lemon juice, and top with candied ginger or lemon peel.

Lime Cardamom Icebox Shortbread

Follow the recipe above, adding the zest of two small limes to the butter and sugar mixture. Add, along with the flour and cornstarch, 1 teaspoon ground cardamom. Bake as directed.

Other flavor ideas:

- Cranberry-orange

- Lemon poppyseed (roll the log of dough in poppyseeds)

- Pistachio-rosewater

- Vanilla bean (add the seeds of one vanilla bean to the butter mixture; roll the dough log in vanilla sugar)

- White chocolate cocoa nib

- Sesame

- Chocolate-mint


Gin's picture

The "icebox" in the title gives an indication of just how old this recipe is. I have one for my great-grandmother's "cornmeal icebox rolls." Love recipes with history behind them.

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