Frankly, I don't really understand the December cookie craze. If you ask me what my favorite Christmas cookie is, I'll tell you chocolate chip. Only chocolate chip. At least, that would have been my firm answer right up until last week when I discovered Regan Daley's butter-toffee crunch shortbread and had a change of heart. It was love at first bite, and it took everything in me not to hide in the pantry and devour the whole pan.
I didn't grow up churning out cutesy little gingerbread men at my mother's side, and I'm pretty sure we only gave Santa whiskey. (No offense to my mother, holiday baking just wasn't her thing.) So while I love giving food gifts around holiday time, it is most often yummy snacks purchased from my favorite artisanal brands. Because while nothing says 'I love you' like homemade, sometimes you just can't compete with perfection. (Little John's Famous Toffee comes to mind.)
But this Daley's shortbread packs a divine flavor punch, especially for a branch of the cookie family that up until now I found fairly unimpressive. (It makes sense this recipe would be solid. Daley's book In the Sweet Kitchen is a cult classic in the pastry world and one I refer to again and again.) But what I think I love best about this shortbread—besides the butter, of course—is its ease. There's no tedious rolling and cutting, sparkling and spraying. Or basically, none of the things about Christmas cookies I never learned how to do. You just press and bake until done. (Well, something along those lines.)
I will definitely be whipping up this shortbread recipe for many years to come, if for no other reason than I want to be the lucky recipient. So am I a holiday baking convert yet? Let's just say if you asked me what's my favorite Christmas cookie I'd say, "Well, that's tough. I have two."
Notes: Since Regan Daley's original recipe is so close to perfect, I have left the ingredients as they were in the original recipe (except for adding chocolate chips!), and then updated the instructions with some of my own tweaks, observations, and suggestions. Use the highest quality butter available to you; it really does makes a difference in the flavor. Rice flour gives the shortbread a tender, crumbly texture, but cornstarch can be substituted if necessary.
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 2/3 cup rice flour 1/2 teaspoon table salt 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 6 tablespoons super-fine sugar (see note) 6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips or butterscotch chips 3/4 cup toffee bits, such as Heath or Skor
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch metal baking pan. (If using a glass baking dish, lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees.) Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on each side to allow for easy removal.
Sift the all-purpose flour, rice flour, and salt together and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or with an electric hand mixer), beat butter on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add both sugars and cream them with the butter until the mixture is very light and fluffy (almost like whipped cream), approximately 2-3 more minutes.
Using a wooden spoon, fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, until completely incorporated. Add the chocolate chips and toffee bits and stir until they are evenly distributed.
Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, pressing firmly to distribute it evenly. (Work quickly so the warmth of your hands doesn't melt the butter.) Use the back of a spoon to smooth the surface. Prick the dough all over with a fork.
Bake the shortbread for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and prick again to release any trapped air. Bake for an additional 10 to 20 minutes according to texture preference — less time will yield a more tender, crumbly cookie; longer and it will be more firm.
Allow the pan to cool on a wire rack for 7 to 8 minutes. Using a sharp knife, slice the shortbread lengthwise into three even sections, wiping the knife clean after each cut. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue cutting the shortbread crosswise into 3/4 to 1-inch wide rectangles. (I sliced these pieces in half again, yielding about 60 cookies.) Allow the cookies to cool completely in the pan.
Carefully remove the shortbread to a cutting board. (I use a large turner/spatula, along with the parchment paper, for additional support.) Re-slice the pieces to separate. Store shortbread in an airtight container in a dark place.
• Regular granulated sugar can be processed in a food processor or high powered blender until a superfine texture is reached.