Truly magical! A new Christmas classic… Scrumptious old-fashioned buttery shortbread kissed with sunny orange zest, a modest amount of finely chopped pecans and a whisper of spices topped with spiced deep-red holiday Sugar Plum Jam. Our Sugar Plum Shortbread Christmas Cookies are like a jam-topped English scone turned into a shortbread cookie! Perfect for Christmas brunch or dessert. Everyone will love them!
A New Christmas Classic:
Sugar Plum Shortbread Christmas Cookies
One Word: Magical.
From the very first nibble…
Classic Christmas flavors, an exceptional shortbread cookie recipe and an exquisite plum jam, turn simple yet scrumptious shortbread cookies into the extraordinary.
In a fairytale Christmas fantasy way, these special holiday cookies, Sugar Plum Shortbread Christmas Cookies, in the shape of stars, will delight and surprise the senses of both children and adults. They are truly magical.
All of our favorite sweet treat holiday flavors are here such as rich and buttery-sweet home-baked shortbread, satisfying earthy notes of toasted pecans, sunny orange citrus, a whisper of holiday spices and a deep berry-red, lightly spiced holiday jam. Dreamy.
As Christmas sweets tend to do, in a special symbolic way, our Sugar Plum Shortbread Christmas Cookies will nourish the spirit. Along with a cup of soul-warming Christmas wassail punch, mulled cider, spiced tea, spiked coffee or cocoa, just one bite of these festive cookies will have sugarplums dancing in your head. I kid you not, my friends.
Christmas memories are filled with holiday sweets. Visions of yeasted coffeecakes and breads, all bejeweled with bits of colorful candied fruits and spiked with brandy or rum, buttery shortbread cookies with a spot of red berry jam, crisp iced gingerbread cookies, decadent mince pies, plum cakes and spiced puddings are all a part of the Christmas celebration. In addition, the prevalent yet comforting scents of almond, citrus, vanilla, peppermint and spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, are ever present and capture the spirt of the holidays. Our Sugar Plum Shortbread Cookies do just that.
From the very first nibble, you will know these Sugar Plum Shortbread Cookies are real deal Christmas cookies. They taste just like Christmas!
Santa Claus Sugar Plums by U.S. Confection Company, N.Y., advertising circa 1868.
What exactly are sugar plums or sugarplums?
sugarplum: a small candy in the shape of a ball or disk, sweetmeat
first known use: 1627
sweetmeat: a food rich in sugar, a candied or crystallized fruit, candy, confection
More on Sugar Plums…
According to Mimi Sheraton, author of Visions of Sugarplums: A Cookbook of Cakes, Cookies, Candies & Confections from All the Countries that Celebrate Christmas, the original sugarplums were made in Portugal of fresh black figs or green plums, cooked and recooked for days on end in ever-thickening sugar syrups, to produce a sort of glacéed fruit. Prunes, figs, dates and other dried fruits are now prepared as sugarplums.
A Sweet Poem on the Sugar Plum Tree…
Have you ever heard of a Sugar Plum Tree?
‘Tis a marvel of great renown!
It blooms on the shore of the Lollipop sea
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town.
After cutting in the butter, the dough will still be very crumbly. Simply knead the dough until smooth and form it into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly into a compact disk before rolling.
When it comes to sugar plums, as a child I always thought they were gumdrops. As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off. Now, as an adult, I immediately think of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet, with dancing soldiers, The Mouse King and the Sugar Plum Fairy. The ballet, of course, was based on and inspired by The Nutcracker and the Mouse King fairytale written in 1861 by Ernst Hoffmann (aka E.T.A. Hoffmann), the German Romantic composer, writer and author.
Nowadays, the fairytale is simply known as The Nutcracker and The Nutcracker ballet continues to enchant audiences at Christmastime all around the world.
Photo of Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara (left), an unknown performer (center), & Vassily Stulkolin as Fritz (right) in the Imperial Ballet’s original production of the Petipa/Ivanov/Tchaikovsky ballet “The Nutcracker”.
E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776 – 1822), full name Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, was a German Romantic author of fantasy and horror, a jurist, composer, music critic, draftsman and caricaturist. He is also the author of the fairytale novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the famous ballet The Nutcracker is based. Hoffmann’s stories were very influential during the 19th century, and he is one of the major authors of the Romantic movement.
Cutting the rolled shortbread cookie dough into star shapes.
Did You Know?
In the final act of The Nutcracker, the Sugar Plum Fairy dances in The Land of Sweets. The twinkling melody during this act is played on a celesta. Tchaikovsky discovered the celesta on a trip to Paris, and was the first composer to use it in a play.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893), anglicized as Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, came from a family with a long line of military service and was a Russian composer of the late-Romantic period. His works are among the most popular music in the classical repertoire. His father, Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky, had served as a lieutenant colonel and engineer. Tchaikovsky was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally. In fact, The Nutcracker, since its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, on Sunday, December 18, 1892, has enjoyed enormous popularity. Since the late 1960s, it is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in the U.S.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Sugar Plums…
Children Hanging Their Stockings and Dreaming of Sugar Plums, circa 1870
Of course, one certainly cannot think of sugar plums without recalling fond Christmas memories of the iconic verse with the phrase, “visions of sugar plums” from the poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Santa and His Reindeer and Santa’s Arrival, circa 1870
An excerpt from the poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads…
~Clement C. Moore, 1823
Clement Clarke Moore (1779 – 1863) came from a prominent family and was an American Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature. His father, Benjamin Moore, was the Bishop of New York. He is credited as the author of the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, which later became famous as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The tradition of reading the poem on Christmas Eve is now a worldwide tradition.
Applying Sugar Plum Jam to the baked and cooled shortbread cookies with a spoon then spreading with a sable paint brush dedicated to working with pastry.
The very concept for these delightful shortbread Christmas cookies came to me 15 years ago. I received a catalog from the wonderful Stonewall Kitchen featuring their Sugar Plum Jam on the front cover. Immediately, I was smitten with the idea.
Fortunately, this well-loved and popular holiday jam is still being made today and available via mail order and at select fine specialty retail stores. It is gluten-free which is good news for my gluten-free readers.
Stonewall Kitchen Catalog – Holiday 2000.
Specifically, the Stone Wall Kitchen Holiday 2000 catalog, and their spectacular holiday jam, provided the inspiration to ice or frost a delectable shortbread cookie with a special holiday jam and then sprinkle the most beautiful sparkling sugar I could find on top for the “crowning touch”.
The perfect sugar I found is Sparkling White Sugar by King Arthur Flour. This sugar sparkles on baked goods just like diamonds or Austrian crystals!
Sparkling White Sugar by King Arthur Flour in a prep bowl.
As for the extraordinary shortbread cookie recipe, I looked no further than BHG or Better Homes and Gardens. I have been making their perfect shortbread cookies for years. It is a tried and true recipe that never fails and always satisfies the most serious of shortbread cookie connoisseurs.
Quite simply, what I did was take the BHG recipe for Lemon-Pecan Shortbread Cookies and turn them into Orange-Pecan Spice Shortbread Cookies by adding freshly grated orange zest in lieu of lemon and a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg so as not to overpower the buttery shortbread goodness.
For the shape, I knew right away it had to be stars for Christmas and a nice size at that. What resulted is the perfect side-of-the-saucer holiday cookie of ample size, a sort of mini plum cake, scone or biscuit, to savor all to oneself with a warming hot drink. Sublime.
It was last December when I made these Sugar Plum Shortbread Christmas Cookies and completed the photo shoot. It was also at night and I went against my usual “shoot only with natural light” rule by shooting with artificial light due to the lack of ample daylight on such highly overcast winter days. The shoot was entirely experimental as I am still learning about working with artificial light. My favorite shots are of the fun, backlit “sugar showers”.
My friends, Christmas came early at our house this past weekend when The Big Lug gifted me a new MacBook Pro. I am beyond ecstatic and still pinching myself after my keyboard and modem troubles last week. To me, a box from the Apple Store is like a box from Tiffany’s! So, it is rather fitting that my next post was to share a very special Christmas cookie recipe with y’all.
Do yourself a favor and add this special Christmas cookie recipe, Sugar Plum Shortbread Christmas Cookies, to your baking list this season. Your family and friends will love you for it! Trust me.
Merry Christmas and bon appétit!
Below are Pinterest-friendly sized images to pin at Pinterest!
Scrumptious old-fashioned buttery shortbread kissed with sunny orange zest, chopped pecans and a whisper of spices, topped with Sugar Plum Jam. These magical cookies are like a jam-topped English scone turned into a shortbread cookie!
- For the Orange-Pecan Spice Shortbread Cookies
- 2½ cups (310 grams) organic all-purpose flour, such as King Arthur Flour®
- ½ teaspoon fine-quality ground cinnamon, such as Penzey’s
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated whole nutmeg
- ¼ cup (27 grams) finely chopped toasted pecans, see Notes
- 6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar or vanilla sugar, see Notes
- 1½ tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
- 1 cup (2 sticks/226 grams) salted butter, cut into small bits
- For the Sugar Plum Jam & Sparkling Sugar Topping
- Homemade or prepared Sugar Plum Jam, such as Stonewall Kitchen®, or favorite red jam, strained
- Granulated sugar, for sprinkling
- Sparkling white sugar, such as by King Arthur Flour®, for sprinkling
- Arrange oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 325ºF (about 165ºC). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Alternatively, lightly grease two baking sheets before using.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, spices, nuts, sugar and orange zest. Using a pastry blender, or heavy-duty stand mixer with paddle attached on low speed, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling together. Dough will still be very crumbly. Knead the dough until smooth. Form into a ball and then flatten slightly into a compact disk.
- On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough until ½-inch thick. Using 1½ to 3-inch size cookie cutters, cut into desired shapes. Place on prepared baking sheets 2 inches apart.
- Bake for 18 to 22 minutes (18 to 20 minutes for small cookies or 20 to 22 minutes for large cookies) or until bottoms start to brown and centers are set.
- Allow cookies to cool slightly on baking sheets for 2 minutes. Using a metal cookie spatula, transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely before icing with jam and sprinkling with sugars.
Cool shortbread cookies completely before icing with jam and sprinkling with sugar.
To store shortbread cookies either before or after icing with jam, layer between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days. Alternatively, freeze cookies, before icing with jam, for up to 3 months.
How to Measure All-Purpose Flour for this Recipe: This tip is provided for bakers who do not own a kitchen scale and will be measuring flour by volume rather than by weight. First, aerate your flour very well by stirring it in the container. Then, simply use the dip and sweep method by gently dipping your dry measuring cup into the flour (without packing it) and level off the top with a straight edge of a metal icing spatula. (The straight edge of a knife from a flatware set can be used as well.) This should yield about 125 grams per 1 cup of flour. Use a sheet of wax paper as a liner on your work surface to measure flour so that the excess can easily be funneled back into flour bag or container.
How to Toast Nuts: Toasting nuts brings out their flavor and makes them crisp. It is easy to do. Although toasting nuts is optional for this recipe, it is highly recommended. See directions below.
Preheat oven to 350ºF (180º C). Place nuts, in a single layer, on an ungreased baking sheet. (I like to use my round pizza pan because it has a lip on it which prevents the nuts from rolling off.) Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring halfway through baking time, or until nuts become fragrant and are lightly browned. Watch the nuts closely to prevent burning. Cool nuts completely before chopping and adding to recipes.
To speed up the cooling process after toasting nuts, immediately place hot toasted nuts onto a plate and place in the freezer for 5 to 8 minutes. Halfway through chilling time, stir the nuts to aid the cooling process.
How to Make Vanilla Sugar: Making your own vanilla sugar is quick and easy. Simply plan ahead 1 to 2 weeks before using.
You will need:
1 fine-quality (plump and moist) whole vanilla bean
2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
1 pint-size (16-ounce) wide-mouth mason jar with lid and ring
Place sugar into a medium bowl. With a sharp paring knife, on a small cutting board, carefully slice down the center of vanilla bean, almost to the end but leaving the end intact, to split open. With the back of the paring knife, scrape seeds into bowl with sugar. Using fingertips, work the vanilla seeds into the sugar until well incorporated.
Pour vanilla sugar into mason jar halfway, then place scraped vanilla bean into the jar until near the bottom. Fill jar with remaining sugar and close jar tightly with lid and ring for an airtight seal.
Store vanilla sugar for 1 to 2 weeks. To use in recipes, substitute equally for granulated sugar. Makes 2 cups (about 400 grams).
Cookie Shape Variation for Spheres: This cookie dough, for Orange-Pecan Spice Shortbread Cookies, can be rolled into 1-inch balls before baking to create simple round shortbread cookies. Lightly grease or parchment line two (2) cookie sheets. Simply shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. If desired, sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until bottoms start to brown and centers are set. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 20 cookies.
Cookie Shape Variation for Stamped Cookies: This cookie dough, for Orange-Pecan Spice Shortbread Cookies, can be rolled and stamped with a cookie stamp before baking to create imprint-designed shortbread cookies. Lightly grease or parchment line two (2) cookie sheets. Simply shape dough into 1-inch balls and stamp with cookie stamps. Place cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. If desired, sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until bottoms start to brown and centers are set. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 20 cookies.
For Gluten-Free Option: Substitute 2½ cups (320 grams) of Cup4Cup Gluten Free Flour, available at Williams-Sonoma stores, for the 2½ cups (310 grams) of all-purpose wheat flour called for in the recipe.
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