Before we start, I’d just like to point out that I have been waiting almost a year to post this recipe.
It all began last year, in the post Christmas slump, when I noticed that I had a few fresh cranberries left over and decided they needed to be put to good use. To be honest, some of them were not so fresh, so by the time I’d weeded those out, I was left with a relatively small amount. I decided to make a half-batch of shortbread and threw in the zest of an orange that was past its first flush of youth. Imagine my joy when they turned out to taste amazing! Not too sweet, the chopped, raw cranberries studding the pale, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread in jewel-like fashion and the background zing of the orange really adding to the flavour. I laid in some frozen cranberries anticipating a year of shortbread-filled deliciousness.
Fast foward a couple of weeks and I decide to rustle up some more toothsome cranberry shortbread and grab the cranberries from the freezer. However, disaster struck, in that the defrosted cranberries turned out to be a soggy mush, and before long the shortbread mix was a) waterlogged and b) a beetroot-pink soggy mess as the cranberry juice bled into the rest of the ingredients. I battled on, valiantly trying to rescue the batch, and baked a tray in the hope that the oven would dry them out. Alas, no. The soggy mix baked into a soggy blob and the whole enterprise ended up in the bin. In desperation, I dashed to the shop to try and get some fresh cranberries. Here is actual footage of me rushing to the supermarket for fresh cranberries
But ohnoes! MORE DISASTER! Fresh cranberries in January are just not to be found for love nor money. So 2020 was doomed from then on. Little did I know…
I’ve been on #CranberryWatch since about mid-September and finally the festive red berries made their way to The Shires. Typically, I can’t find my notes from the original batch, so for the last week or so I’ve been Faffing About™ with proportions of flour, sugar and butter in order to bring you the very best version of these biscuits and the very toppest of tips.
And on that subject, I have a recommended utensil to ensure your biscuits (and pastry) are always looking their fabulous best – the microplane grater!
Here’s mine (Cuisipro – but there’s lots of brands to choose from). It’s fantastic not only for fine grating and zesting, but also for neatening the edges of tarts and biscuits. A light touch of the microplane and you can whisk away all the little uneven bumps and knobbles that seem to appear on even the most crisp and neat edges during baking. Observe:
You will need to have a light touch if you’re planning to use one on these biscuits, because they are so crumbly, but pastry can be treated more robustly. (Link to a video demonstrating use on pastry).
As already mentioned, the combination of tart cranberries and punchy orange zest mean that these biscuits aren’t overly sweet. If, after trying them, you think they’re not sweet enough for your taste, you can drizzle over a little white chocolate to bring the sweetness up.
You can slice and freeze the dough (see below), and so always have delicious cranberry buttery goodness all the year. Strike while the oven is hot – or rather, while the cranberries are fresh!
250g unsalted butter – softened
90g icing sugar
zest of 1 orange
250g plain flour
- Beat the butter and sugar together for 10 minutes until very pale and fluffy.
- Chop the cranberries finely in a food processer and add to the butter mizture with the zest.
- Sift the flours together and add to the cranberry mixture. Mix slowly until the flours have combined.
- NB: This dough is very light and fluffy – much too light to handle – so it needs to be formed into long, sausage-shaped rolls and chilled overnight. When thoroughly chilled, it can then be sliced into ‘coins’ and baked. Don’t try and make it all into one roll, make three at least.
- Put a 40cm piece of clingfilm on the worktop and spoon 1/3 of the dough into the middle. Roll up the plastic around the dough and shape into a smooth log. Twist the ends around to firm up the roll and put in the fridge to chill overnight. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- When ready to bake, heat the oven to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
- Slice the logs of dough into thin (6-7mm) slices and arrange on baking sheets lined with parchment. Confession time: this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Even well chilled, the dough is tricky to cut. If you take your time, it also warms up, and the mere act of pressing down with a knife can cause the slices to become mis-shapen. TopTip: An egg slicer might be an excellent means of cutting thin slices without mis-shaping the resulting disks. I couldn’t find mine, so I improvised with a piece of thread pulled taught and used it like a cheese wire.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes (depending on the thickness of your biscuit ‘coins’), turning the tray around halfway through to keep the heat evenly distributed. No, this is not a typo. I know this seems a ridiculous length of time for biscuits, but long and slow cooking at this relatively low temperature allows the shortbread to bake through thoroughly without browning, so that when cool, they are crisp, yet crumbly, and the pale dough contrasts so well with the splashes of red cranberry.
- Use a palette knife to transfer the cooked biscuits to cooling racks to cool completely.
- ‘Tidy’ the cooled biscuits with your microplane if liked, and store in an airtight container.
- These biscuits will keep for a few days, but are at their best on the day of baking. The raw dough can be cooked from frozen, so my recommendation is to slice the chilled logs and lay the discs out on parchment and freeze. When frozen, you can gather them back up and store the discs of dough in a ziplock bag. When needed, just lay out as many as you require and bake as above.