For the third year in a row, my first Christmas cookies of the season are being posted as part of the Sweetest Season Cookie Exchange, in which food bloggers post festive goodies and donate money in support of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We believe in their mission to raise funds for pediatric cancer treatments and research through bake sales and cookie swaps. Many supporters (“Good Cookies”) do this throughout the year, and I always look forward to supporting them by participating in the Sweetest Season. Making cookies is my favorite thing in the world to do, and the fact that it might help someone this week makes it even better. I made my donation on Giving Tuesday, but if you’d like to learn more and/or make a charitable donation to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, click here.Let’s talk about Pretzel Shortbread. Salty, sweet, crisp, pretzely (inside & out!) cookies, with or without a drizzle of dark chocolate. Oh my lord, y’all. These are absurdly good.Today’s cookies are inspired by Philadelphia-favorite Lost Bread Co.’s Pretzel Shortbread. I first saw them when my friend, Claire, who co-owns Philly’s Root Market, posted about how quickly they were selling out. After that, I went down an internet rabbit hole and found out that they are made out of ground up stale soft pretzels, then brushed with lye before baking for maximum pretzelization.*
*I’m twisting the word “pretzel” a lot today and I will not apologize.Instead of being a normal person and ordering from Lost Bread Co. online, I decided to figure out a version for the home baker…but without the lye because who keeps food-grade lye around?Taking a cue from Lost Bread Co., my Pretzel Shortbread dough is made with a mix of flour and ground pretzels, and sweetened with dark brown sugar and confectioner’s sugar for both flavor and texture. The rest of the ingredients are butter, vanilla, and salt. It’s all mixed together in the span of a few minutes, then rolled and cut into shapes. I went with stars because that’s what I like.Next up: the pretzeling! After the cookies are rolled and cut (and also briefly frozen a couple of times), they are dipped in a warm mix of water and baking soda, or as I call it, “pretzel wash.” This is simply a small batch of the solution traditional soft pretzels are boiled in to achieve their signature golden finish. It’s literally just water and baking soda (no lye!), but it’s the thing that takes these cookies over the top!Instead of tossing the shortbread in boiling liquid, which would probably destroy them instantly, I let the pretzel wash cool until I can touch it, and then dip the frozen cookie dough stars into the mix. This is followed up by a swipe of egg wash and sprinkles of coarse salt and sugar before being baked to a brown, burnished, decidedly pretzelesque* finish.
*“Pretzelesque” is my new favorite made-up word.Finish the Pretzel Shortbread off with a drizzle of chocolate, or not. I did a little of each—I like to have options.Salty, sweet, pretzeled inside-and-out, chocolaty, Christmasy, delicious options.
makes about 3.5 dozen cookies
2 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
4 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups ground pretzels (about 1 1/2 cups whole mini pretzels)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon water
coarse sugar (optional)
3 ounces pure dark chocolate, chopped
coarse salt, for garnish (optional)
coarse sugar, for garnish (optional)
Read this recipe in its entirety before beginning.
Make the pretzel wash. Pour water into a 3-4 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Wearing an oven mitt (or other protective hand gear), whisk in baking soda. Mixture will bubble and expand violently. Remove from heat. Set aside.
Place softened butter in a medium-large mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to beat it until light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Add dark brown and confectioners sugars and mix until fluffy. Mix in vanilla and salt. With the mixer on low, beat in flour and ground pretzels. Dough will be crumbly looking, but should hold together very well when pinched. Divide dough in two parts.
Working with one half at a time, sandwich dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll until 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to the freezer (on a baking sheet, if desired) for 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough. It is okay to stack the sheets of dough in the freezer.
While the dough is freezing, place racks in the center positions. Preheat the oven to 325F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Remove one sheet of dough from the freezer. Peel on of the pieces of parchment off. Use a lightly floured 2-inch cookie cutter to cut cookies. Place them close together on prepared pans. Freeze for 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough sheet. Scraps can be re-rolled, frozen, and cut.
Dip cookies in pretzel wash. Remove frozen cut cookie dough from freezer. Wearing a latex glove (highly recommended), dip cookies into pretzel wash and place back on baking sheets. Freeze again for 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining cut cooking dough.
Make egg wash. Combine egg and water in a small bowl, and use a fork to whisk until combined. Brush egg wash over the tops of the cookies, then sprinkling with coarse salt & coarse sugar.
Bake cookies for 23-25 minutes, or until burnished and brown. Let cool on the pans for 7 minutes. Use a thin spatula (not your fingers!) to remove cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.
Line two baking sheets (or a large surface) with parchment. Place cooling racks over the top. Arrange cookies on racks.
Melt chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave (30 second increments, stirring in between). Use a fork to drizzle chocolate over cookies. Scatter coarse salt & coarse sugar over the tops, if desired. Repeat with remaining cookies. Chocolate will set after a couple of hours at room temperature, or a few minutes in the freezer.
Shortbread will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a week.