Whenever anything awesome happens, Beth asks me how I’m going to celebrate, or what my reward is going to be. It can be big victories, or small, but she’s very big on rewarding oneself for a job well done, and I have come to see this is not a bad system at all.
These have been on my to-be-baked list for a while, and given that I’ve had a couple really smashing weeks when it comes to my writing, I decided the time was right. But then, the time is probably never wrong for vanilla shortbread covered with orange buttercream.
This recipe is super logical when it comes to its sugar. You are going to look at it and think “that ain’t possibly right,” but trust me, it is. This makes a very neutral shortbread that you can do anything to; here, it’s the perfect vehicle for this amazing buttercream.
The original recipe calls for them to be made into sandwiches, and after piping the buttercream, I did not want to mash all that pretty away under another plain shortbread square. I wanted to look at the rosettes and other designs I made! Either way, these are simple and tasty (and this worked right out of the gate in my high altitude setting).
Preheat your oven to 325.
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
the innards of 1 vanilla bean, or 2 tsp of vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Whip your butter until it’s nice and whippy, and then add your vanilla. Vanilla butter is awesome (you might try that on bread some morning!), but add your sugar and blend till light and fluffy. Add your flour a quarter cup at a time. Your dough may come together into a ball on its own. If not, don’t worry. You can mash it by hand into a ball.
Set on a lightly floured surface and roll out. Cut into squares using either a knife or a pastry wheel. I am in deep love with my pastry wheel, one of the best things I’ve ever purchased. The yellow handle also makes it easy to find in my tool drawer!
Place your cut shortbread onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for 18-20 minutes. I did not count how many cookies I got, but it was possibly 24ish.
For the buttercream:
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
up to 2 cups of powdered sugar
up to 2 tablespoons of milk or orange juice
1/2 of a vanilla bean or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
the zest of one orange
Cream your butter, add your vanilla. Alternate the additions of sugar and your liquid. I put orange juice on there as an alternative because you have the orange RIGHT THERE, so why not use it? I did half milk, half juice — just know that you don’t want watery frosting and be mindful of how much you add. Added too much? Add a smidge more sugar. Do not panic, cupcake. Toss your zest in whenever. When zesting, I get to use my other favorite kitchen tool, my Microplane. Love, love, love.
This will be ready to go immediately, but one thing I always do when adding zest to anything: I let it rest a few minutes. The oils just infuse whatever you are making and oh boy. The entire house smelled like oranges all evening. Glorious. Super easy: you can totally do this with lemons, limes, or grapefruit. Just be sure the skin of your fruit is super clean and free of all that gross wax. (You could also add zest to your dough if you like. You could even do a different flavor in there…lemon and lime? orange and grapefruit?)
When your shortbread comes out, it won’t take long to cool. But definitely be sure it’s cool before you ice these, otherwise your buttercream will melt — which, as we know from the lemonade cake, that’s okay, but here, we are looking for more decor and less run!
If you have an icing bag and tips, use them. If you don’t, don’t panic. You can just as easily put your icing in a sandwich bag, snip off the corner and pipe your icing this way. I used a Wilton 21 tip, which is a small star. And mostly, I just fooled around. I even made letters, because of course I did!
Note: do not panic if your buttercream gets firm on your cookies. It’s actually ideal that this happens, because it prevents damage to your decorating (when doing cakes, I often add meringue powder, which helps it set up even more). Your buttercream is still delightfully creamy on the inside.
Om nom nom. Consume within two days — they’re just a smidge too dry on day three (but were still perfectly fine with tea…).