Christmas Shortbreads

An email from a friend told me about the Christmas baking she’d been doing. I responded to her: You will be happy to know that even this grinch sees baking shortbreads as a must-do every Christmas. It’s even a want-to do.

One year I baked shortbreads and other delightful sweet nibblies in the company of Bill Richardson all afternoon. His show on CBC Radio probably didn’t last all afternoon, but that’s how I remember it. Since 2002, I’ve been getting together with my sister to do our Christmas baking. We often try out new cookie recipes (with varying degrees of success), but even if we try a new shortbread recipe (the one with grated orange peel and chocolate was yumm), we always make a batch of our traditional shortbreads too, using the recipe our mother always used.

Last year, we broke with tradition a little. We still made shortbreads, of course. But we’d finally used up the last of the colours-never-seen-in-nature cherries we’d always cut up to use as decoration. (We cut them into bits so small the same container lasted for years. Let’s hope whatever was in them helps preserve us even half as well.) Rather than going out to buy more glazed cherries, we decided to cut up little gummy bears that I happened to have on hand. (What would our mother have said!?)

The gummy bears melted into beautiful little circles of red, gold, and green in the middle of our shortbreads and we were convinced we’d found the perfect alternative. Until we sampled our product and discovered that baked gummy bears are 100% unchewable. They could be used by dentists for fillings.

This year we settled for patterns of fork-pricks or a sprinkling of coloured sugar. Not that shortbreads need any embellishment in terms of flavour, just a little something to make them prettier on the plate.

Do you have baking traditions that honour someone in your family at this special time of year? Have you started any new traditions with your own kids that you’d like to share with the world (well, the little corner of it that reads my blog anyway)?

I’ll just be off having a quiet cup of tea and a shortbread now. I hope my sister and my baking friend will join me, albeit some miles away.

Share this post:

Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.

Kathy Stinson


  1. Dad on December 22, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Great to see this custom carried on.

  2. Liz on December 22, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    It wouldn't be Christmas without shortbread! Made lots of different shortbreads this year but I don't really have any family traditions for baking at Christmas. I usually start baking at the beginning of November and put it all in the freezer. Sometimes my daughter will bake with me, she would rather eat it though! She particularly likes the orange chocolate shortbread straight from the freezer! Does taste good I must admit!
    I am looking forward to some grandchildren to bake Christmas cookies with one day. My kids used to love baking with Grandma. She used to bake every Sunday morning (made Mincemeat tarts every week) and they would always want to go for a quick visit. That is one of their special memories of her.

  3. kathystinson on December 23, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Do frozen shortbreads take longer to eat, I wonder? If so, freezing them would be a good way to attempt to limit intake, for those of who need to watch that sort of thing. But hey, it's Christmas time. I think I'll go have another anyway. πŸ™‚ Merry Christmas.

  4. Nan Forler on December 23, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I love the story about the cherries not found in nature. I think my mom has a jar of those cherries from before I was born. Well, as I am the friend who got you thinking about baking, I should share my cookie experience. I baked shortbread from 6 p.m. until 1 a.m. on the night I e-mailed you, enough for my mom and my sister's families as I am the keeper of the recipe. Using my grandma's recipe and her old cookie press, I squeeze out miniature dogs, wreaths, trees, and everyone's Christmas favourite: the camel. πŸ™‚ I swear more in one night than I normally would in a year as the dough is either too hard to press through or too soft to release onto the tray. And yet, the smell of that buttery dough, the sound of the sugar granules scraping the metal bowl, the mounds of raw dough I consume, remind me more of my grandma than any picture in a frame. I play Bing Crosby and eat Laura Secord chocolates while I bake, just as she would have done. I miss my grandma most at Christmas.
    I think I would like to try out those chocolate orange shortbreads!

  5. kathystinson on December 24, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Thank you for sharing this with visitors to my blog, Nan. It's a lovely account and like the shortbread tradition itself, a loving tribute to your grandma.

    Maybe this year, to honour my grandma, I should make a simple turkey sandwich on Boxing Day with just the bread, turkey, butter, and salt (the way I used to have them at my grandma's house) instead of adding the stuffing, cranberry, and lettuce embellishments that have become my custom. Truth be told, the turkey sandwich I ate at my grandma's house, I ate, not on Boxing Day, but before we headed home on Christmas night – as if we hadn't stuffed ourselves enough already!

    Merry Christmas!

  6. Janet Barclay on December 27, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Mmm, turkey sandwiches! That's what I miss most about having Christmas dinner at someone else's house. I don't miss the clean-up though.

  7. kathystinson on December 28, 2009 at 5:50 am

    Clean up isn't ususally TOO bad here. Peter willingly takes on the turkey pan and other ucky kitchen stuff while I deal with the sorting out of the chaos created by the accompanying festivities. Especially nice this year was the cheerful addition of Kelly to the clean up crew. And when it was all done, we were all entertained, as we relaxed with a Bailey's, by Keisha making yet another valiant effort to befriend Kelly's cat.

    That said, I will happlily set aside some sandwich turkey for your next visit, Janet. πŸ™‚

  8. Janet Barclay on December 28, 2009 at 6:49 am

    That's something I'd have liked to witness:

    "Keisha making yet another valiant effort to befriend Kelly’s cat"

  9. kathystinson on December 28, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I will cc you when I send a couple of photos to Kelly. Not quite as good as being there, but it will do – until Keisha has the opportunity to meet YOUR cat. πŸ™‚

  10. Janet Barclay on December 29, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Tasha and I are looking forward to it.

Leave a Comment

Please read my Privacy Policy before commenting/subscribing.