So much about the holidays is captured in the aromas of the season.
The fresh pine scent of a Christmas tree. The rich aroma of a turkey roasting in the oven. The fragrant scent of a pot of mulled cider bubbling on the stovetop. And my absolute favourite, the comforting combination of an orange and clove pomander.
This year, I want to help you get into the holiday spirit with a little something I'm calling the 12 Days of Christmas Cookies.
From December 14 to 25, I'm posting a new holiday cookie recipe each day. Did you miss one? You can catch up on my Christmas Cookies page.
Today's cookie captures that festive combination of orange and cloves in a crisp, buttery Orange Spice shortbread base that's perfect for dunking into a mug of tea or drizzling with dark chocolate for an extra touch of fanciness.
The Inspiration for These Cookies
I've been making icebox shortbread for the holidays for almost as long as I can remember. It's the perfect holiday cookie recipe because the base dough provides a sweet, buttery base for any combination of flavours your heart might desire.
This particular combination of fresh orange and warm spices is inspired by Constant Comment, a classic black tea blend that's been sold by Bigelow since 1945.
The exact recipe is a well-kept secret, but after much experimentation, I think I've managed to come pretty close to nailing it. I deliberately left out the black tea, but everything else is there - bright orange zest, fragrant cloves, warm cinnamon, and hints of allspice and cardamom to round things out.
And if oranges ain't your thing, never fear... I've got a toffee-bacon shortbread coming your way in a few days!
Why are Oranges Associated with the Holidays?
A single citrus may not seem all that impressive nowadays, but even just a generation or two ago they were considered an expensive and exotic treat, especially in the middle of winter when any kind of fresh fruit was hard to come by.
Oranges have long been seen as a symbol of prosperity, particularly in northern climates where oranges aren't plentiful and easy to come by, and are often associated with warmth and sunshine, which is something we all need during these short winter days when the nights seem so long.
While oranges may not have the cachet they once did, they're still popular for stuffing into stockings or making pomanders - a simple decoration made of fresh oranges studded with cloves that plays double duty as a beautiful holiday centerpiece that also fills your home with a wonderful natural fragrance.
Making your own pomander is as simple as pushing a few whole cloves into a fresh orange, or any other citrus fruits like mandarins or clementines. You can display them in a bowl for a few days, or hang them in a cool dark spot until they dry out to make a more long-lasting ornament.
(Need more inspiration and tips? Check out this homemade pomander tutorial on Simple Bites.)
More Icebox Cookies for the Holidays
Icebox cookies are a lifesaver during the holidays, because the dough can be made well in advance and stored in the fridge (or even the freezer, if you're preparing well in advance). You can slice off a few cookies to satisfy your sweet tooth, or slice up a whole log for a last-minute hostess gift or holiday potluck.
Here are a few more favourites:
- Earl Grey Icebox Cookies from Crumb
- Pistachio-Cardamom Icebox Cookies from Crumb
- Savoury Cheddar Coins from Crumb
- Holiday Pinwheel Cookies from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Peppermint Meltaways from The Kitchen McCabe
- Salted Butter Chocolate Chunk Shortbread from Smitten Kitchen
Orange Spice Shortbread
- Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Yield: 36 cookies 1x
These buttery shortbread cookies are scented with a fragrant blend of fresh orange and aromatic spices that's inspired by Constant Comment tea. Keep them plan for dunking in hot tea, or drizzle them with dark chocolate for a fancy holiday cookie tray.
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup icing sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp orange extract
- ½ tsp salt
- Zest of 1 orange
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla, orange extract, salt and orange zest at medium speed until combined.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. Add to the butter mixture and, with the mixer on low speed, mix until you have a soft, slightly crumbly dough. (The dough might look really dry at first, but just keep mixing - after a minute or two. it will magically start to come together!)
- Divide dough in half. Place each half on a piece of parchment paper and roll into a 1 ½” log using lightly floured hands. Wrap up tightly and refrigerate until the dough is firm and slices cleanly, about one hour.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment.
- Unwrap logs and cut into ¼” thick slices. Arrange on the prepared baking sheets, spacing about 1” apart.
- Bake one cookie sheet at a time in preheated oven until the edges are lightly golden, 15-20 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Chocolate-Drizzled Cookies: For a fancier version, melt 1 cup chopped dark chocolate (not chocolate chips) in the microwave or a double-boiler until smooth, and drizzle over the cooled cookies. Let set for an hour before transferring to a storage container.
Make Ahead: Wrap the unbaked dough tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. For longer storage, transfer to a zip-top plastic bag and freeze for up to 3 months, then thaw overnight in the fridge before baking.
Storage: Cookies will keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container.
- Prep Time: 75 mins
- Cook Time: 15 mins
- Category: Cookies
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: Canadian
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