Pistachio Shortbread

December – and subsequently the end of 2019 – has been pretty good to me so far. Ehem: I received a very unexpected but very much appreciated promotion at work, in the same department I’ve come to know and love (go Forestry!) with people I love to work with, in an organization I feel lucky to work in; I assisted HRH Carla Tomasi (vegetable whisperer, cook/baker/instructor, you know the drill) at Latteria Studio’s annual Christmas Pop-Up Kitchen -- one of my very favorite parts of the holiday season -- helping to sell her A+ collection of homemade cookies, cakes, jams chutneys, molasses, and vinegars, surrounded by freshly baked focaccia and vin brule’ and lots of lovely people; I’ve spent a lot of time with friends at old favorites like Pasticceria Charlotte and new favorites like Magazzino Scipioni and 180gr Pizzeria; I’ve found the time to take strolls down to St. Peter’s, to see the annual Christmas tree, have a hot chocolate or two, and do lots of pasta practice (working on my cappellacci and tortelloni, stay tuned).

Promotion! Pop-Up Kitchen! Pasta! Could it possibly get any better than this you might be wondering?!

Yes, yes it certainly can. Just when I thought things were at their very best, this pistachio shortbread turned up, to cap it all off.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! Let me explain: while Italy focuses more on torrone, panettone, and pandoro around Natale, the holiday season for me (American that I am) has always meant cookie exchanges, tins of cookies given as gifts, cookies left out for Santa, cookies alongside a mug of Swiss Miss brand hot cocoa, cookies baked up to make your (snow-capped, if you’re living in Rhode Island) house smell wonderful and cozy and Christmas-y. Every family has their own Christmas cookie traditions, of course; at our house there were always white chocolate and apricot biscotti, shortbread Santas and snowmen, and buttery, and nutty mezzaluna cookies, to name just a few. December in the U.S is cookie season, plain and simple.

Shortbread is a pretty glorious thing – perhaps my very favorite cookie, upon reflection? – and I’ve baked my fair share over the years, with the occasional variation (gingerbread shortbread! lemon shortbread! chocolate shortbread!) It was on my radar for this year’s usual flour-dusted, sugar-tinged, butter-happy holiday baking – nothing fancy, just solidly delicious, classic shortbread – when I came across the recipe for this pistachio version from Bon Appetit Magazine (my very favorite thing to read, other than Harry Potter, for the record).

So! This shortbread is everything shortbread was born to be; it’s buttery, its slightly salty, it’s crisp, it’s addictive, and the pistachios here shine, melding perfectly with the cookie in their own buttery-right and infusing the traditional cookie with their splendid, nutty, telltale flavor. Deliciousness aside, this is, quite possibly, the perfect holiday cookie –  the pistachios make this shortbread festive and a little special, yes, but most importantly, the dough comes together in a matter of seconds in the food processor, ideal when you’re still very, very behind on your Christmas shopping and the idea of remembering to take butter out of the fridge to soften and use multiple bowls and beaters may seem overwhelming. There is no rolling out of dough or cookie cutters required, just slicing and baking, and best of all, the dough can be stored in the fridge for a few days, up until you’re ready to use it (I found that when I did this, the cookies became even more intensely pistachio-y; win win). The quantity here is rather large, but never fear – I can guarantee you that many (most? If you’re not careful?) of these cookies will end up as merry-christmas-to-me! cookies rather than in the tin meant for your friends, and with good reason. Long story short: life is good, and a whole lot better with a few of these nearby.

Stay tuned for one more Christmas recipe before the big day!

A couple of notes: Pistachios were fantastic here, but I bet this shortbread would also work great with pecans, hazelnuts, or even macadamia nuts if you want to make extra luxurious shortbread. These would also be nice dipped in dark chocolate. This dough can be made up to five days ahead. It also freezes very well (just thaw it in the refrigerator when you want to use it). The cookies, once baked, can be made up to four days in advance, if stored in a tupperware.

Looking for other shortbread recipes? I’ve got these shortbread hearts and this gingerbread shortbread, plus this chocolate pear tart with a shortbread crust. Looking for other pistachio-centric recipes? I’ve got this pistachio semifreddo, this pistachio, cranberry, and chocolate fudge, and this pistachio pesto.

Recipe from Bon Appetit Magazine. Makes about 50 cookies.

1 ½ (195 grams) cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (80 grams) powdered sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks, 168 grams) unsalted butter, chilled and cut in to cubes
½ cup (about 65 grams) unsalted pistachios
1 egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter, pistachios, egg yolk, and vanilla. Using on/off turns, mix until moist ball forms. Transfer dough to work surface. Divide dough in half. Form each dough half into 8x1 ¼ in log (if this seems too specific, which it was for me, just roll the dough into a log that looks like it will give you big enough cookies and leave it at that). If the dough is too soft to roll (it wasn’t for me) chill for 30 min in the fridge. Wrap logs in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius). Slice logs into ¼ inch thick rounds, rolling log after every few slices to retain round shape. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake shortbread until barely golden, 16-18 minutes. Cool shortbread on baking sheets and enjoy.

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