Lighten up! A sweet solstice celebration.

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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 was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Alissa

    These look great. I’m wondering how long crystallized ginger lasts. I *think* I have some, but have no clue when I bought it or even for what. Which is scary. I might just have to make regular shortbread to celebrate solstice instead.

    Alissa, go ahead and use it. The only thing that happens is it gets hard, and you’re going to pulverize it anyway… PJH

    Reply
  2. Sue

    I sure do wish I had some crystallized ginger, because that warm spicy shortbread would be very welcome on this dreary, dark winter day.
    I like the corrugated marks on the bottom of the shortbread too.
    Is there any reason you couldn’t do this all in the food processor as long you’ve got it dirty anyway? Just curious.

    Sure, Sue, why not? Good idea. Just don’t beat up that dough too much; stop processing as soon as it comes together. Don’t want to toughen the gluten… PJH

    Reply
  3. Bridgett

    Oh what I wouldn’t do for a wedge of that and a cup of hot tea! Shortbread is my favorite cookie. I have always wanted to make recipes with crystallized ginger but am reluctant due to the cost of the ingredient. What is the life span of crystallized ginger in a jar?
    It should be good for about a year. It may harden in that amount of time, but the baking will soften it up. Molly @ KAF

    Reply
  4. Marcia

    I am sure this recipe will turn out as good as the sausage and cheese scones. I made them this afternoon and posted 3 photos on my FaceBook page.

    When I was at Trader Joe’s about 2 weeks ago, I bought a 6 oz bag of crystalized ginger–$1.49. I keep it on hand to eat as is. It makes tasty sugar too when grated together, then sprinkle on sugar cookies. Cabot butter was $1.50 for a lb box the other week and it is perfect for this recipe. I stocked up on it. I never refrig butter.

    I have a Smithsonian castle shortbread mold, but am not sure I could get the shortbread to come out of the mold. Would PAM help? I’ve always set it in the kitchen window as a decoration. and have had it since the late 60s.

    Marcia, shortbread molds can be tricky, to make the cookie come out with a really sharp outline. You won’t know unless you try though, right? Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  5. siuflower

    Can I make the shortbread in the food processor?
    Tell me will it work if I process the flour with the ginger first then add the butter, salt and the rest of the ingredients into the bowl and continue to process until it form the dough.

    Thank you

    siuflower

    Should be fine – give it a whirl (groan…) :) PJH

    Reply
  6. Shirley

    Have had trouble with the stoneware mold as well. I can always get it out but the pattern doesn’t come out. I have wondered if chilling the doubh in the stoneware before baking would help.

    Nothing seems to help much, Shirley. Seems kind of catch as catch can, at least for me – sometimes it looks beautiful, sometimes it’s mottled. I do know that you want to beat the dough slowly, so as to get as little air into it as possible. And chilling won’t hurt, either…

    Reply
  7. Kim

    This looks so yummy! I can’t wait to try this recipe. Does anyone know if you can freeze crystallized ginger? I have a TON of it, and don’t want it to spoil.

    You can freeze it, but it won’t spoil; just keep it well-wrapped and cool, Kim. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  8. Karen Cunningham

    PEACE-BE-UNTO-YOU! I’VE JUST SIGNED UP THIS MORNING, & WAS CHECKING OUT YR RECIPE FOR THAT SHORTBREAD W/CRYSTALIZED GINGER IN IT! I CAN HARDLY WAIT TO TRY BAKING IT, & MANY OTHER RECIPES YOU HAVE THAT I HAVEN’T EVEN SEEN AS YET! I CAME ACROSS YR ONLINE ADDRESS 2-DAY BY FINALLY PUTTING SOME KING ARTHUR FLOUR INTO CONTAINERS THIS MORNING! SOMETHING TOLD ME 2 READ THE BAG THE WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR CAME IN! I’M SO HAPPY THAT I DID!!! TAKE CARE & BE BLESSED! KAREN CUNNINGHAM! (SMILE!)

    Reply
  9. BakingSpiritsBright

    I would not use PAM on your mold. The propellants used in that stuff would most likely penetrate the mold and be difficult to get out. I used to use it on my teflon pans and there was always a sticky residue around the edges. I think Alton Brown discussed the down sides to using the stuff in one of his episodes of Good Eats.
    Could I make this without the ginger? I tasted crystalized ginger once and it burned so badly I thought my tongue would fall off. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth for the stuff (groan). Any suggestions for sustitutions? Thanks.

    If ginger is not to your liking, pick your favorite flavor or extract and have at it. I didn’t have any ginger left in my pantry, I made this up over the weekend with the zest of an orange and 1/2 a lemon. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  10. Judy B.

    Will definitely try the recipe. I have a few small molds that I will try (thanks for the tips) but I covet the teapot/teacup mold you show in demonstration…does KA sell this mold or do you know where I can purchase one? I would love to have some teapot molded shortbread with my Earl Grey. Thanks and Happy Solstice.

    Judy, I don’t think we’re bringing back that particular pattern, but I’ve asked the merchandise team. I think we’re adding a different pattern for winter, in January – probably a traditional British Isles/Scottish type design. Many kitchen shops carry shortbread molds, so probably just hunting around for the teatime one would be your best bet. PJH

    Reply
  11. Trudy

    My mother always pricked her shortbread, then cut it before baking. I do the same and it makes all the difference when you take it out of the oven and have to cut it again.

    Reply
  12. Theresa Beach

    I’ve made my own crystalized ginger, but I don’t remember where I got the directions; I think from the Internet. It’s just like making candied orange or lemon rinds. I’ve just moved to a new house, so my holiday baking will be limited this year, but I’m going to make mock mincemeaat (no meat!) today. Tomorrow I’ll make the pie crusts, bake a couple of pies, and then do one or two daily until the ingredients run out.

    Reply
  13. Nickolina

    On the recipe, a comment mentions browning the butter first. I generally do this by accident when making other cookies because I melt the margarine/butter in my big stainless steel bowl while the oven is preheating and it does change the texture a little…not an issue at my house since they eat cookies in any variation. But would that texture change be important in a shortbread? I would do the entire thing in the processor since I’m a lazy baker…(the most inventive kind.)

    Nicolina, I think browned butter shortbread would be just fine – haven’t tried it, but it sounds reasonable. Go for it! PJH

    Reply
  14. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez - Petrópolis, R.J. - BRAZIL

    Hi, PJ. You with another simple lovely recipe! I have some difficult to find those kind of pans here in Brazil. The results are great in this case.
    Here in Brazil we have at this time 16 hours of intensive sun, and just 8 hours of darkness, we´re lucky in this case.
    I have a question about something that occurs here with frequency. I bake some cakes and breads on Teflon pans and they turns brown on bottom side. When i bake inside normal pans, it never occurs. What´s happening with my Teflon´s pans? Why they turns the bread´s bottom brown? Any idea to avoid this error?
    Anyway i must say i´ll send to you the Pão de Queijo recipe still today!
    Merry Christmas to you and all the bakers!!!

    The teflon is dark, so it makes the bottoms brown more. You might try putting a sheet of parchment on the pan underneath the dough. Mary@ KAF

    Thanks, Ricardo – I’ll look forward to that Pao recipe! PJH

    Reply
  15. Kathy

    A few years ago, on my first trip to your store, I bought two Wilton shortbread pans. One with different snowflake patterns, the other flowers. The recipe on the package uses confectioner sugar. We love the taste and I wonder why do most recipes use regular sugar? You can see the snowflakes and flowers clearly after cooking, much better then my new xmas holiday stoneware shortbread pan.

    Reply
  16. Doris

    PJ I have a little something that I want to send to you in the mail. What address can I use?

    Hi Doris – We’re at 58 Billings Farm Rd., White River Junction, VT 05001. I’m interested! PJH

    Reply
  17. Liz from Ocean County, NJ

    For BakingSpiritsBright: Shortbread is very adaptable. I make several varieties for Christmas each year. I make chocolate chip, lemon, almond and new this year, cherry almond shortbread. I was going to make coconut shortbread this year but inspiration hit hard when I found the red candied cherries in my pantry. The cherry almond may be my new favorite. (I wonder how it would be if I added chocolate chips to that?)

    I have my Scottish grandmother’s recipe which is very basic: 1 lb. butter (she always used salted butter), 1/2 cup caster (granulated, superfine preferred) sugar, 1/2 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar and enough flour to make it the right consistency (through trial and error I’ve found 5 cups works perfect). Even though Nana’s written recipe didn’t say this, I know she used rice flour for about 1 cup of the flour when she could get it to make a slightly crisper shortbread. Her recipe made 4 “cakes” rather than 2 and since I can fit 2 cakes per cookie sheet, I can get a lot done in a short amount of time. She also baked it in a “slow” oven for about an hour.

    On another topic, I used to have a whole collection of shortbread molds and used to identify the different varieties I made by the design of the mold. I stopped using them a while ago, however, because I found that the pieces you get by cutting with the design were pretty big. I also had sporadic trouble with the shortbread releasing cleanly and the design being clear, just like PJ and other posters. Now I just free form them into rounds on a cookie sheet, prick it all over with a fork and use the tines to decorate the edges. Some varieties are obvious, like the chocolate chip, but if they are not, I use different colored sugars to decorate the cakes before baking so I can tell which is plain and which is lemon, for example.

    Shortbread has to be my all time favorite cookie.

    Reply
  18. Soupaddict Karen

    You know how you’re reading along, and sometimes you anticipate a word that’s coming? When I read “In Scotland, the tradition was enhanced with the addition of …” I thought you were going to say “Scotch.” Scotch? Can you tell my brain has been dark-addled for too long?

    Scotch or no, I’ve been on a ginger kick this autumn, so any recipe with that as an ingredient is sure to get made….

    Reply
  19. Lorraine

    I would love to try this recipe with “browned butter”, however, should I let the browned butter solidify before making the recipe? I wonder if leaving the browned butter liquid will change the texture of the shortbread? Give it a try and let us know how it comes out. Mary @ KAF

    Reply
  20. Nickolina

    Ok, I tried the melted browned butter & processor idea. Maybe I didn’t process it enough….it stayed crumbly even after baking. Large chunks are intact, more are shattered. I plan on using the crumbs for that easy cheesecake I bookmarked a while back…

    Also tastes kind of salty, thinking that is because I added salt when I should have remembered the butter was salted.

    All that being said; I am eating it & enjoying it & needed to step away from the shortbread. Maybe need a cup of tea or coffee, too. Oh wait, that would require another piece of shortbread….

    Reply
  21. Kirsten

    just a thought on using browned butter: the flavor sounds like a great variation on shortbread, but i’d think that heating the butter long enough to brown it would cook off a lot of the water in the butter (usually 20%). The lost moisture could account for the change in texture Nickolina experienced. If you remeasure the butter after browning you should be able to see any loss and compensate with water if needed. I seem to remember when i made ghee (removing the water and milk solids) a pound of butter only yielded about 12oz of butterfat.

    Excellent point, Kirsten. You’d need to compensate for that somehow – I think I might add cream rather than water, as I’m thinking water would yield a hard cookie, where cream would make one that’s more delicately crunchy. But it would be interesting to try it both ways – thanks so much for your input – PJH

    Reply
  22. Carol

    In answer to Ricardo’s post, Pans such as his usually require an oven that is 25 degree less for that reason.

    Enjoy all the posts for the recipes- always gives more ideas for baking.

    Reply
  23. Sue E. Conrad

    Hi, P.J.!!

    That ginger shortbread looks oh-so-yummy!!! I have one of those Brown Bag shortbread pans and have used it with great success. It came with a booklet that includes a basic recipe plus variations. This shortbread with crystallized ginger would undoubtedly bake up perfectly!!

    Hope your Christmas is everything you could wish for. My best to you and your lucky family…..and thank you again for your meeting with my husband and me this past summer. Great memories!!

    Sue, I picture you and your husband standing in the test kitchen right now – it was so nice to meet you. Hope you get a chance to bake the shortbread. Happy holidays, to you and your family… PJH

    Reply
  24. bibliotecaria

    How about a whole wheat version? What changes would you make there? I’ve used the oat shortbread version in your whole wheat cookbook, but I’m not sure of the transition without the oats and using the ginger.

    You could try a whole wheat version, preferably white whole wheat. They’ll be coarser-textured and softer, I’d wager, but still tasty. Give it a whirl – PJH

    Reply
  25. Barbara

    Read a comment about making cherry almond shortbread. YUMMO! I think adding a little almond extract would kcik them up a notch. Would I use maraschino cherries or dried cherries or some other type?

    Dried would be best, Barbara – candied second choice, maraschino third. The less moisture, the better. Sounds good! PJH

    Reply
  26. Mary

    This sounds really yummy and I’m going to try it. Several years ago I bought some brown sugar shortbread and loved it. I’ve never tried to make it as I don’t know how much to use. Any ideas? By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed the “dancing bakers” and seeing all the people at my favorite bakers store. Merry Christmas to you all.

    Try using the same amount of brown sugar and see how you lik it, Mary – PJH

    Reply
  27. Diane Lahalih

    I came across your recipe for Soltice Shortbread cookies but could not any reference to the temperature of the oven. Did I miss it? What would that be? That would be 325*F. Mary @ KAF

    Reply
  28. Selma Schwartz

    I just made these shortbreads and they are delicious. My husband loves them. I am on Weight Watchers and figure each shortbread at 3 pts. It would be great if you would give nutritionals, including fiber, for the recipes to make life easier for those of us needing this information. I followed the directions exactly but next time I will try making them completely in the processor. Thanks for the wonderful recipes and I love reading all the comments.

    Selma, making nutritionals available for all the recipes is a long-term goal, but at the moment we simply don’t have the manpower to make this happen. Thanks for mentioning your interest, though – it’s good to know how many readers would really like to have this information. PJH

    Reply
  29. 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
  30. 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
  31. 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
  32. 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
  33. 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
  34. 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
  35. 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

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