It's here at last. It's the Most Wonderful Thyme of the Year! (Oh lord, even I hate myself a little for that one.) I'll blame the bad punning on remnants of tryptophan. Or something like that.
Anyway, what I mean to say by all that is it's Christmas baking time! It's that glorious month where all the extra time is spent cranking out cookies and breads and spiced nuts and all the goodies that will make their way into boxes or baskets for our friends and relatives. The rooms begin to smell constantly of cinnamon and sugar, and the air of preparation builds.
When we were little, we would be enlisted all December to help mom crank out the yearly offerings: date bread, glazed sugar cookies, Irish lemon teacake, peanut butter fingers, Scotch shortbread cookies, candy cane cookies, date cookies, and other delicacies (also, stay tuned for those recipes to pop up throughout this month). There always seemed such injustice in the ratio of how many cookies we could consume instantly to those we packed away to disappear permanently onto other peoples' tables. Which made for some talented skills at appropriating unnoticed cookies when mom's back was turned. If a cookie is eaten off the table and mom's eyes are not there to see it... was the cookie really eaten? Definitely not as far as our cookie ration was concerned.
One of the cookies we made every year was a Scotch shortbread cookie. It was simple and the dough a bit cantankerous, but it was one of our favorites. We would traditionally decorate them with tiny bits of chopped glacé cherries - two bits of green for holly leaves and one bit of red for the berries.
Lately, however, I've found that I much prefer these with a bit of added flavor. I've begun making a simple icing with freshly squeezed lemon and topping each cookie with a tiny pinch of thyme. I love how the sharpness of the lemon cuts through the crunchiness and leaves you with a fresh, tangy taste. The thyme comes through just as a hint, but I love it paired with the lemon. Plus, that added layer of savory herb helps keep the icing's sweetness from overpowering the cookie.
They are definitely on the drier side of the cookie spectrum, but I quite like that. If you prefer a different texture, feel free to adjust the butter content accordingly. As such, is is quite a crumbly dough, so don't be afraid to use your hands to press it down rather than a rolling pin. The warmth of your hands will help the dough adhere to itself the more you work it.
Ready? Let's do this!
lemon & thyme shortbread cookies
¾ cup butter, room temperature
¼ cup sugar
2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 lemon, squeezed
1½ cup powdered sugar or more, sifted
Combine butter, flour, and sugar in a medium mixing bowl.
Cut the butter into the flour and sugar using a pastry cutter or your hands - I prefer using my hands to ensure an even mix.
Wrap the combined dough (it will be very crumbly!) in cling wrap and chill for 1-2 hours.
Using your hands, press the dough onto a floured surface to create an even surface approximately ⅓-½" thick. Cut cookies from this using small cookie cutters.
Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350º for 15 minutes.
Place the freshly squeezed lemon juice in a small bowl.
Add the sifted powdered sugar gradually until it makes an icing thick enough to adhere, but still liquid enough to apply with a brush, toothpick, or small spoon.
Gently top each cooled cookie with the icing, being careful that you do not apply it so close to the edges that it runs over. Don't worry too much, they don't have to be perfect - they are for eating after all!
Place a tiny sprig of thyme atop each cookie.
Allow the icing to set at room temperature, or chilled for a faster set.