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Classic Shortbread with Fresh Orange Zest

Mariel here. Well, the bridal shower we hosted went off without a hitch. Sort of. The day itself was picture-perfect – the food my mom lovingly prepared (and took a day off work to make) was delicious, as always, the flowers were radiant and even the weather cooperated with sunny skies and a balmy 60 degrees on the thermometer.

The morning preceding the 1pm start time didn’t flow quite so smoothly. As I mentioned last week, I had taken it upon myself to home-make all of the guest favors for the shower and since I write for Martha Stewart, I somehow feel compelled to live up to her DIY craftiness. A husky voice with an elevated Bedford-ian drawl steps inside my brain demanding, “Perfect darling. PERFECT.” Or maybe it’s Katharine Hepburn. Either way.

Well the odds of things turning out perfectly looked decidedly bleak on Saturday AM. Since my goal was to drive out to Westchester early on the big day to help my mom with the final food prep, I decided to make the shortbread dough the night before. During my trial run a week earlier, I simply let it chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking.

On Saturday, as I optimistically removed the dough from the fridgedaire – leaving just enough time to bake it before hitting the road – I realized, to my horror, that the dough was rock-hard. Like break-a-window hard. Great. So I waited for all that solid butter to start softening.

And I waited…and I waited.

It took a good hour for things to soften up enough to knead into a baking pan and toss in the oven…which left me a full hour behind schedule. I made it before the guests arrived, but not without a certain degree of panic, embarrassment and guilt for leaving my mom hanging in the prep department. Oh, and obviously I still had to assemble all the gift bags and photograph the things.

So what can you take away from this? You can certainly chill the dough overnight, by all means go for it. But if you do, leave yourself an hour to let it “thaw” at room temp. Martha would be soooo disappointed if you didn’t.

As promised, below are a few links to the supplies I used to assemble the bridal shower gift bags, which consisted of Homemade Mixed Berry Jam and the Orange-Spiced Shortbread recipe below. And let me just tell you, they were worth every second of worry. They were totally adorable and delightfully tasty, if I do say so myself.

Custom labels in gingham: $8.00 for a sheet of 35
4-oz Ball quilted jam jars: $16 for a case of 12
Small cellophane baggies: $6 for 200
Natural raffia ribbon: $1.14
Baker’s Dozen Small White Bags: $5.99 for 13
Creative Crinkle Bag Stuffing: $2.99

Need inspiration for your next bridal shower or tea, check out our go-to menu recommendations.

Classic Shortbread with Fresh Orange Zest
Makes about 24 cookies
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

NOTE: We suggesting slathering with Homemade Mixed Berry Jam

2 cups all-purpose flour – stock
¼ teaspoon baking powder – stock
rounded ¼ teaspoon of fine salt – stock
2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature – stock
½ cup confectioner’s sugar – $1.39
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract – stock
2 rounded Tablespoons of freshly grated orange zest – $0.69
Grand total assuming well-stocked kitchen: $2.08
Cost per cookie: $0.07

1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and the confectioner’s sugar until light and very fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract.

3. Remove the bowl from the electric mixer and stir in the flour in two additions using a wooden spoon, alternating with the orange zest. Stir until everything comes together in a thick dough.

4. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator – anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight. Though heed my advice in the intro – the longer you leave in the fridge, the longer you’ll need to allow the dough to thaw. If you chill overnight, leave an hour for returning the dough to room temp before baking.

5. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 10×10 square baking pan or a 10-inch round cake pan with parchment paper (trace the outline of the pan onto the parchment and then cut to get a perfect fit). Butter the parchment and the sides of the pan. Press the dough into the pan and score with a knife into the size cookies you’d like.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies are just turning barely golden. Cool on a wire rack and cut into bars/cookies.