Lighten up! A sweet solstice celebration.

December 21, the official start of winter, is the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice. And for those of us up North, this means a scant 10 hours of weak daylight – and over 14 hours of darkness.

It’s no wonder that northern Europeans used to gather on December 21 and burn bonfires all night long, imploring the sun to return. In Scotland, the tradition was enhanced with the addition of oat shortbread – baked in a round, and notched around the edge to resemble the sun’s rays.

The buttery shortbread we serve these days is a far cry from that original oatcake. But it’s still just about the simplest cookie you can make: flour, butter, and sugar, enhanced with a touch of salt, maybe vanilla. That’s your basic shortbread.

But when do we ever stick to basics in our holiday baking? Ginger, one of winter’s signature flavors, makes a wonderful shortbread.

Mind you, we’re not talking dark, molasses-y gingerbread here. Instead, finely minced crystallized ginger is added to standard “blonde” shortbread to make a cookie that’s just slightly darker – and a whole lot more complex in flavor: sweet, spicy, and ever so slightly HOT.

And at this time of year – when days are short, nights are long, and the sun struggles to find its way above the horizon – HOT is good.

Welcome, winter! Let’s bake some celebratory Solstice Shortbread.

Start by preheating the oven to 325°F. This shortbread comes together quickly, so give your oven the time it needs by turning it on right at the start.

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That’s medium diced crystallized ginger on the left, and mini diced crystallized ginger on the right. Either is appropriate for this recipe, as would be soft diced ginger, a lovely cross between crystallized ginger and ginger in syrup.

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Place 1 cup of King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour in a food processor with 2/3 cup crystallized ginger.

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Process until the ginger is finely minced; this may take up to 1 minute.

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Combine 1 cup unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon salt, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional) in a mixing bowl.

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Beat till smooth.

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Add the flour-ginger mixture, plus an additional 1 1/3 cups flour, to the butter-sugar mixture.

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Beat to combine. The mixture will seem stubbornly crumbly at first; just keep beating…

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…and all of a sudden it’ll come together quite nicely.

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Divide the dough in half; this is easily done using a scale.

Why, what do you know, there’s another of my favorite new pans: our USA Pans 9” round pan.

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Press the dough into the bottom of the pan.

Love the corrugations – they help brown the crust, and release the shortbread easily.

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You can also use an imprinted stoneware shortbread mold. Any mold about 8” or 9” diameter will do. Be advised that you’ll need to bake the shortbread about 15 minutes longer, if you bake in stoneware.

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Once you’ve pressed the dough all the way to the edges of the pan, you can smooth it with a pastry roller. I find this silicone mini roller is very handy for small jobs like this.

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There!

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Prick the dough all over with a fork. A decorative design is fun to make, but it usually disappears by the time the shortbread is done baking, so don’t worry if you just want to prick and poke at random.

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WHOOOOPS! “Someone” forgot to prick the dough in the stoneware pan.

No worries – if you see your shortbread ballooning, just poke it with the sharp tip of a paring knife.

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Bake the shortbread till it’s golden brown all over, and a bit browner around the edges, about 35 minutes. Remove it from the oven, and immediately loosen the edges with a table knife or heatproof nylon spatula.

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Turn the shortbread out of the pan, and quickly cut it into wedges. Don’t let it cool; it’s difficult to cut without crumbling when it’s fully cooled.

Lovin’ my acrylic pizza cutter, as always.

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Now aren’t those handsome! And tasty, too.

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See the difference between top and bottom crusts? That’s how nicely that USA Pan browns.

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With an interesting tender/sandy-yet-chewy texture, and over-the-top sweet-hot ginger flavor, these shortbreads are a diabolically delicious way to greet winter.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Solstice Shortbread.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. abby

    Alternate cooking method from my aunt Petey Karr’s shortbread recipe. Roll the dough into a log about 1 inch in diameter and cut about 1/2 inch thick.Prick as usual with a fork. Cook on an ungreased cookie sheet. Time will be about 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Enjoy!…

    Reply
  2. cartvl219

    Made these last week as a substitute birthday cake. Since I am presently glutin intolerant, I had gotten some GF cookbooks (author Bette Hagman) at the library. Saw a recipe for Orange Shortbread. When I compared it to this, the only difference was ginger vs. orange zest. So I substituted the KA GF flour and added xanthan gum. Since I had made these once before with AP flour I knew what they were like. The GF version was indistinguishable from the previous batch. So if anyone is looking for a really yummy gluten-free treat try these! 🙂
    Carolyn

    Reply
  3. jjmcgaffey

    Candied ginger is easy, and you can adjust the ‘heat’ of it to your taste. The hardest part (mostly boring) is peeling and chopping the ginger.

    Fresh ginger fingers (I start with about 1.5 pounds, it ends up being ~1 lb chopped)
    Sugar equal in weight to the ginger
    Enough water to cover the ginger and sugar
    More sugar – ‘caster’ or ‘bakers’ sugar, finely granulated, is very nice. You can make your own by whizzing granulated in a food processor. Use about 1 lb – most of it will be still there when you’re done.

    Peel the ginger with the side of a teaspoon (perfectly ordinary spoon). Break/chop off and throw away any dry/overly fibrous bits. Break off fingers to get the smoothest lumps for peeling.

    Cut up your peeled ginger into sizes you like – if the ginger is relatively old and woody, I cut it very small (lentil/split pea sized); if it’s relatively fresh and young, pieces about the size of my little finger tip. Absorbency is the key here.

    If you like it hot, go on to the sugar section. If you like it relatively mild, put the ginger in a saucepan, cover it with water and bring to a boil. Pour off the water (save it, that’s ginger tea!). Repeat if desired – up to three boils (that will make very mild ginger).

    Put the chopped ginger in a saucepan, put in the sugar (equal in weight to the chopped ginger), add water until the ginger pieces are just floating or completely covered (mine usually float). Bring to a boil, reduce to low/medium and simmer until syrup is reduced and ginger is translucent brown – 1/2 hour to 3 hours, no idea what the difference is (not temperature, not amount of ginger, not age of ginger…).

    Put the caster sugar in a shallow bowl/pan (I use a quiche pan), a layer about 1/2 inch-1 inch thick. Use a skimmer to remove the ginger pieces from the syrup and drop them into the sugar; stir the sugar and ginger with a spoon in between dropping skimmers-full to cover the syrupy ginger with the sugar. When all the ginger is in the sugar, pour off the syrup (again, save it – yummy in ginger cookies, as sweetener for tea/coffee…canning jar works well.) and let the ginger cool in the sugar. About an hour later or when cool, put it into a jar or tin, shaking off as much sugar as possible (a sieve helps). There will be bits that are just ginger syrup in sugar – also yummy – and the sugar will be mildly gingery from bits too small to separate out. Save it to use for your next batch of ginger, or…how about in the shortbread?

    BTW – my syrup usually hardens – I get it too hot and it gets to firm or hard ball. I pour it out onto parchment, let it cool, then break it up and put it in a jar. Still lovely for sweetening stuff – smoothies!

    It takes a while, and your fingers will likely be sore from peeling the ginger for a bit. It’s _easier_ to buy it from KA (or Trader Joes, or whoever). But it’s fun to make it yourself and you can adjust the heat of the ginger to your liking (I do one or two boils depending on the age of the ginger – younger gets two).

    I am absolutely going to make this. I make my own homemade ginger syrup all the time – this is just a few more steps. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this! Have you considered posting it to our community? PJH

    Reply
  4. Peggy

    First time reading the comments. Totally enjoyable! Glad I had a day off and the time to read. What intellegent consumers you have. I try your recipes all the time. Grrrreat as always. Happy New Year and thank you!

    Glad you had some time to digest what our website has to offer. Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  5. Taya

    A baking soda paste works wonders for cleaning off baked on grease. It’s an old-fashioned remedy and is earth friendly. It’s also cheap.

    Reply
  6. Judy B.

    To: Liz From Ocean County, N.J. – Thanks for the info regarding the shortbread mold (Tea Time) – I’ve viewed the Cookie Art Exchange web site and they do carry the mold – which I will order (www.cookieartexchange.com). Will also check-out the new shortbread mold being sold by KA – gotta support these folks! Happy New Year Ya’ll From Texas

    Reply
  7. Ardosa

    Those who want to try brown sugar shortbread, I find that there is just a bit too much moisture and so you don’t get the crispness of the shortbread, so for the flavor and not as much moisture, i use 1/2 brown 1/2 granulated/white sugar and it comes out just slightly soft shortbread and make sure it goes on a cooling rack after i cut, so the outside is crisp the inside is…. well, just yum!

    Happy New year to you all. Stay warm with the freezing whipping wind we have up here in New England right now!

    Reply
  8. ian creedy

    i make my own crystalized ginger and it lasts for eons if kept in the refrigerator also tastes much nicer than the commercial stuff

    Reply

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