These cranberry orange shortbread cookies are simple to make and bursting with SO much flavor! The cookie dough is rolled in coarse sugar, then sliced into cookie rounds, and baked for 10-12 minutes. With a melt-in-your-mouth texture, this recipe is just the thing for the holidays.
As a trained pastry chef you might think that I like to make all the intricate and crazy desserts. But the opposite is true!
I really would rather make simple yet slightly elevated baked goods. Especially around holiday time when there is so much going on! These holiday shortbread cookies fit the bill!
What makes this a shortbread cookie?
Well shortbread is traditionally a Scottish biscuit that is made with 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour. If you check the recipe below, you’ll see those are the exact ratios I use!
I love making shortbread this time of year. The rest of the year I like to make lemon shortbread cookies, they are so fresh and full of flavor!
Whats the Difference between a shortbread cookie and a sugar cookie?
The difference between shortbread and a sugar cookie is that shortbread recipes don’t use any eggs and are generally made with confectioners (powdered) sugar. This is what gives them that crunchy yet melt in your mouth feeling.
Sugar cookies use eggs and regular granulated sugar and can have more of a chewy taste.
Ingredients you need for this recipe
Nothing too crazy here. It’s most of the things you already have in your house plus a few extras.
- All purpose flour– this is the best flour to use for shortbread cookies
- Confectioners sugar– Using this instead of regular granulated sugar creates a really light cookie
- Dried cranberries– Chop them up to get them all over!
- Orange zest– soooo much flavor!
- Turbinado or coarse sugar– You roll the cookie log in the sugar for extra sweetness and bite. This is also known as “Sugar in the Raw”.
I don’t recommend using fresh or frozen cranberries as they would add too much moisture to the dough.
How to make these cookies from scratch
You can use a hand or stand mixer or make these cookies by hand and knead the dough.
Step one: Make the dough
In a medium sized bowl combine the butter and confectioners sugar. Mix on low speed until light and fluffy about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add in the orange zest and vanilla and mix to combine. Add in the chopped cranberries, flour, and salt and mix until a firm dough is formed.
Step two: Roll the dough
Roll the dough into a log. It’s helpful to wrap the dough in plastic wrap or parchment paper and then roll it like a rolling pin to shape it. Chill the dough for 2 hours or up to overnight.
Step three: Roll in sugar and slice!
Pour the turbinado sugar onto a rimmed baking sheet and roll the log all over the sugar making sure to cover every bit. Using a long serrated knife in a sawing motion, slice 1″4- 1/2″ slices making sure to keep them even.
Step four: Bake!
Bake the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet for 10-12 minutes at 350° F.
How to store the cookies
Store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Make ahead and freezing instructions
This is a great recipe to make a head. You can make the dough and freeze it for up to 2 months in the log stage, but don’t roll it in the sugar. Before baking, roll in the sugar, then slice and bake.
Wrap the dough in plastic and then in a freezer safe bag before freezing.
You can also completely bake the cookies, then store them in a freezer safe bag and freeze for up to 2 months.
- Do I really need to chill the shortbread dough? YES. You really do. You have to chill shortbread to ensure that your cookies do not spread into blobs!
- Can I use regular sugar? Yes you totally can, you just wont have that crunchy exterior that this recipe offers. You can also use crystallized sprinkles for the same effect but NOT classic jimmies- they will melt!
- Can I add in other ingredients? Totally! You can swap cranberries and orange zest out for any other combo you might like. Try adding other dried fruits or nuts. Make sure to chop them though so that the flavor is really spread out!
- Can I swap the confectioners sugar for regular sugar? I don’t recommend it! The reason I use confectioners sugar is because of its texture (super powdery and soft) and because it also contain corn starch which is a classic shortbread ingredient.
Tips for Recipe Success
- To zest an orange I use a microplane or citrus zester. If you don’t have one you can slice off the zest of the orange making sure not to get the white parts. Then mince into small pieces.
- If your dough is too crumbly- you may have to keep mixing or you might have added to much of a dry ingredient. Add 1 tsp water or orange juice to bring it back together
- If your dough is too dry– you may have added too much flour. Add in a tsp of orange juice or water to bring it back together.
- If you don’t want to use a mixer you can use your hands instead. Bring the ingredients together in a bowl and then knead the shortbread dough on a lightly floured surface.
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For more cookie holiday favorites, try these recipes:
- Thumbprint Cookies
- Crispy Gingersnap Cookies
- Gingerbread Biscotti
- Raspberry Lemon Linzer Cookies
- Italian Ricotta Cookies
Festive Cranberry Orange Shortbread Cookies
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened
- 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
- 2 tsp orange zest 1 large orange
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries chopped
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cups turbinado sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a medium sized bowl or the bowl of a hand or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the 1 cup butter and 1/2 cup confectioners sugar together on low until light and airy, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Add the 2 tsp orange zest and 1 tsp vanilla extract and mix lightly to combine. Add in 1/3rd cup dried cranberries, the 2 cups of flour, and 1/4 tsp kosher salt. Mix until a unified dough forms.
- Shape and roll the dough into an even log. It's helpful to wrap it lightly in plastic wrap and roll. Chill the dough for 2 hours. Pour the turbinado sugar out onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll the chilled log all over the sugar until it is completely covered. Using a long sharp knife in a sawing back and forth motion, cut 1/2" slices of dough. Try to keep them as even as possible.
- Line the cookies 1 1/2" apart on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until firm.