Photos and styling by Angelina Marie, Short Eared Dog Photography

Shortbread is awesome because it’s so simple,” says Jessica Higgins of Girasol Café & Bakery. “It’s just four ingredients: butter, sugar, flour and salt.” But don’t let the simplicity fool you. Not only is this classic baked good delicious, it’s also a simple platform that can launch a home cook in a variety of directions. It’s easy, as Higgins says, to “jazz it up” a little. That versatility makes shortbread popular for holiday baking, party snacks, Christmas gifts, and more.

Higgins, assisted by our own Ruthie Landelius, prepared a variety of stunning shortbread-based desserts for this issue, from a pinwheel design using beet powder to cookies that introduce texture and color with matcha green tea and ground pistachios. 

Taking her simple recipe a step further, Higgins also employed shortbread as an incredible crust for her Millionaire Bars and French apple custard tart. “There are a million ways to use it for the holidays,” she says of the rich, buttery dough.

Shortbread Cookies

12 ½ ounces flour,  or less if using ground nuts (*see note)
3 ½ ounces sugar
8 ounces butter
¼ teaspoon salt
½ ounce of other dry ingredients (cocoa, lavender, beet powder, semolina, matcha, spices) 

* If adding ground nuts, replace 3 ounces flour with them  

Optional: Up to ¼ teaspoon gel color or flavor additive (vanilla, peppermint, bourbon, lemon)

Using food processor add all ingredients; stop when dough has come together well and is flopping in the bowl. Rest in refrigerator, wrapped, for 10 to 15 minutes, then roll out to desired thickness/shape. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

We used beet powder to make the pinwheels, matcha green tea for matcha cookies, color for the ornaments, cocoa for the checkerboards and ground pistachios to flavor and color the basic shortbread recipe. Garnish with cardamom, dried rose petals, melted chocolate, white chocolate  or edible paints. 

Makes 16 to 20 cookies

French Apple Custard Tart

Roll out shortbread dough to about 5 millimeters and line a sprayed springform pan with it.  The sides may break, but can be patched. Press crust to the top of the pan edge, but not over.

Make the custard: Add following ingredients into a bowl and combine well; set aside.

1 cup flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
8 eggs
3 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon bourbon, brandy, vanilla or similar flavored extract 

Peel and slice your favorite apples. We used 3 large Pink Ladies. Peel and core apples; slice and arrange on bottom of shortbread crust. Be as creative or simple as you like. Top with a pinch of cinnamon. Fill tart ¾ up with custard and bake in a 300 degree oven for 1 to 2 hours. The custard will set and raise slightly. It should have a Jell-O-like bounce when done. Cool and release from pan. Garnish with caramel and whipped cream, crystallized cranberries and anything else you like.

Makes 1 tart

Millionaire Bars

12 ounces shortbread dough
1 to 2 cups pecans, chopped 
1 pound melted caramels
1 pound melted ganache

For the shortbread crust: Add 1 to 2 cups chopped pecans and press evenly into a parchment-lined 9- by 13-inch pan. Chill; bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 18 minutes. 

Caramel: Melt candies with a dash of cream or use your favorite recipe.

Chocolate Ganache: Mix equal parts heavy cream and your favorite chocolate. Heat cream in the microwave, add chocolate, stir and rest. Continue heating for 20-second intervals until smooth
and shiny.

To assemble, bake crust; cool completely. Top crust with melted caramel. Cool completely before pouring warm ganache on top. Chill, cut and serve.

Makes about 12 bars

Jessica Higgins