As my son will tell you, "Making something is one way to say I love you". It is a song he learned from Daniel Tiger and he sings it all the time. He is big enough now to understand the meaning of this season and how our family views Christmas, gift-giving, and being together. He knows that when you do something nice, it makes another person feel good. He also knows that it is even better if we make it with love.
That is what these cookies are. Love. Love, because they require a little effort, a little time, and a little patience. Love, because not a whole lot else goes into them. Love, because this recipe is a family heirloom, and one I am proud to make all throughout the year for gifts and for my family. My stepson is always asking me what my "secret ingredient" is in my cooking. I tell him it is love, because that is the honest to goodness truth. Forget the love, and food goes from something special to mere sustenance.
This recipe was my Great Grandmother's on my Mother's side. I called her GG, and I named my daughter after her (Allison). I was 10 when she passed away at the ripe old age of 102. These cookies remind me of her. I had a hard time deciding to share this recipe, simple as it is. I've shared it to many but putting it out there to the world made me feel like it wouldn't be as special. Then I remembered that it isn't the ingredients, the technique, or the tasty results. It is the love that make these cookies special...and it is the love that gives simple ingredients their magic.
It starts with a big pile of flour. I used a half sheet pan, so made a larger recipe than usual. The recipe below is for a standard cookie sheet, which most people have and will use. To make a larger batch, it is pretty simple to figure out how much of each ingredient you need.
Then some sugar, and lots of butter. My batch used 6 cups of flour, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, and 6 sticks of butter. Yes, it is a lot of butter....but these cookies get all their flavor from yummy butter.
From here, you smash, mash, mix, crumble, and make a big fat mess!!! Go for it!
Take your rings off. You'll thank me.
Better. Now, go for it! Mash and mix until it is all mixed together and uniform. It'll be crumbly like pie crust, which is exactly what you want. Sure, you can try making this dough in a mixer and avoid some mess and keep your hands clean, but they won't come out as good without this effort. This is the love people, this is it right here.
Also, more scientifically, when you use your mixer you will incorporate air and overwork the dough, making it tough. This is a simple recipe, but mixing by hand is a must if you want the best cookies.
I had to go in with both hands here, so I put my camera down.
So everything is mixed together now. Notice the crumbs all over the place. Perfect.
Distribute the dough all over the cookie sheet...
And press down hard with your hands to make a mostly even sheet of cookies. It doesn't have to be perfect (just like love is not perfect).
To fancy up the top and even out the dough for better baking, take a fork and run it along the top of the cookies, applying some pressure.
So you get lines like this.
Then bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Here is where the patience comes in. You do NOT want to over-bake these. Some people I have heard like the brown, crunchier cookies. Well, that is great for them. They can have the edges. I prefer the "just a few seconds of baking time over being raw" pieces. In fact, this dough is pretty good raw. No eggs, either. You want to bake them until they are just barely turning brown around the edges. Set your timer for 10 minutes at first, even though they won't be done. You just want to keep an eye on them.
These are perfect!
If you wish, you can lay some chocolate bars on top of the hot cookies so it melts on there.
And then spread it around for a chocolate-topped shortbread cookie. This is not part of the original recipe, but I can't help but add chocolate to just about everything. My mom dips the individual cookies in chocolate to make them extra special. I used dark chocolate. Make sure you don't try using chocolate chips. That won't work.
For purists, which I am sometimes with these, I only covered half with chocolate.
Another very important thing about these cookies. You must cut them when they are hot. If you want until they cool, you'll have issues.
Cut and now we wait for them to cool!
Once they are cooled (or mostly - you might want to just try one to make sure it has plenty of love before they are completely cool) you can take them out and do as you wish with them. Package them, put them in gift bags, bring them to your neighbors...or delight your husband when he comes home on his lunch break.
I put them in a cute box to take as gifts to several different places tomorrow. The cookies on the right are a simple no-bake cookie to round things out. You can find that recipe here.
Also, I like to cut these cookies pretty small. One of the many things my children have taught me is that lots of love can come in a tiny little package. Make these bite-sized and you can grab one here, grab one there. It is a little taste of love. How many time can I say "love" in this post??
GG's Shortbread Cookies
4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
4 sticks (1 lb) butter, softened
Place all ingredients on a cookie sheet and mash together with your hands until everything is incorporated together. Spread out on the cookie sheet and press down to a mostly even layer. Make lines with a fork over the whole batch. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until just barely turning brown around the edges. If desired, top with chocolate bars and spread on after they melt. Cut the shortbread into pieces while warm. Let cool before taking out and packaging.
These will keep for a long time. I've never had them last long in my house, but have seen them last months!