When it came to Christmas cookies in my family, there were traditions upheld out of the sheer belief that we needn’t make any new cookies because the ones we made year after year had risen to the top of the cookie food chain, and were clearly superior to all other cookies, hence their being elevated to a Christmas cookie, from just an any-old-time-of-year cookie.  Some of these cookies required a good deal of extra labor, but they were not overly complex endeavors.  In fact, what made them so impressive was their simplicity.  The end result is something that requires work, but is deceptively elegant in ingredients and flavors.

apple carrot shortbread cookies

Last year, tsp’s first Christmas season, I introduced you to the greatest cookie recipe ever devisedand it still is.

I also showed you Santa’s favorite cookie– the almond scented sugar cookie twisted into lovely red and white candy canes.

We also used to make these classics every year, which don’t seem like holiday cookies, but they were in the mix, and to this day remind me of Christmas baking.  In fact, one year, a teenager doing what teenagers tend to do (trying to impress people) decided to make a different chocolate chip cookie recipe– something involving sour cream.  It was one of those unhappy Christmas episodes, where people argue over things like cookies not being good enough.  But, said teenager was only fighting on principle– the freedom to experiment– not fact: she knew the substitute cookies, puffed up and cake-like from the sour cream, were no where near as good as the crispy chewy chunky terrain of the originals.

I am all grown up now, and empowered to choose to add to the holiday collection with far more expertise and discernment.  I have wanted to share this cookie for a year now, since I made them the first time.  They are a little more exotic in their ingredients– some unexpected additions to a shortbread, and two kinds of flours.  But they have a perfect semolina crunch, rich and buttery, with little exciting tangs of sweet apple and carrot, lemon zest, and a warm cardamom spice.

You can cut them into whatever shape you like.  They don’t really need frosting, in fact this might mask their flavors.  But a little milk wash will give them a nice sheen.

These are rich, so a smaller cookie cutter works well.  Also, you will want metal cutters, since the bits of apple and carrot tend to interfere otherwise. The cardamom was my addition to this, and it is optional.  A few weeks ago I went looking for some at the conventional grocery store, and it was $14 for a little jar.  Then, at Thanksgiving, I found some for $4 at the expensive gourmet natural food store that shall not be named.  I am not sure what is causing this kind of  speculative cardamom bubble, but I am happy to benefit from it.

Apple Carrot Shortbread Cookies

adapted from 101 Cookbooks, who adapted from Good Tempered Food by Tamasin Day-Lewis


  • 1/4 cup semolina flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose, or a mix of both)
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
  • 5 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons)
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and grated (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 small apple, peeled and grated
  • zest of one lemon, (about 1/2-1 tsp)
  • milk for wash


Bring butter to room temperature.  Whisk or sift flours, baking powder, salt, cardamom.  In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the carrot, apple, and zest to the butter mixture, combining with a wooden spoon.  Then add the flour mixture in thirds, mixing well with each addition.  Ont he last addition, use your hands to knead the dough until it is smooth and consistent (don’t over work it).  Divide the dough in half, flatten them into symetrical 1-inch discs. Wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  Roll the dough out to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut the cookies and place them on the parchment, re-rolling any scraps as you go.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  They will get fragrant at the end.

Let cool and store in tins.  These will lose their crunch in a plastic bag– just wrap them in parchment if you don’t want to put them in a tin.