Cranberry Orange Shortbread Cookies are the perfect holiday cookie for the festive season. A tender, buttery shortbread is flavoured with fresh orange zest, studded with tangy dried cranberry pieces and dipped in a sweet orange glaze. These bring the perfect amount of Christmas cheer!
Making traditional shortbread cookies at Christmas has to be one of my favourite traditions. December is the month of cookie baking, to enjoy at home or to share with family and friends. My Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies, Pecan Shortbread Cookies or Almond Biscotti or Chocolate Gingerbread Stamped Cookies are perfect for filling a cookie box with, wrapping a ribbon around and gifting to a loved one.
These Cranberry Orange Shortbread Cookies use the base of a traditional shortbread recipe (Learn all about it in my How to Make Shortbread Guide), and are filled with the festive flavours of cranberries and orange. These two combine beautifully and really bring out each others flavour. The shortbread is flaky, buttery and melts in your mouth with an orange fragrance.
I share my best trick to impart maximum natural orange flavour into the cookies with the fresh orange zest and the chopped dried cranberries are like little pockets of chewy delight. They add the perfect textural contrast to the tender shortbread. I've dipped these into an orange glaze for added orange flavour and sweetness. But this is optional as is needing to cut them into star shapes. I give you alternative ways to stamp them, decorate them and also how to turn these into slice and bake cranberry cookies.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Basic Ingredients. Using only 6 ingredients for the basic shortbread cookie recipe these are a dream to make and bake.
- Incredible flavour. Orange and cranberries make the ultimate Christmas flavour pairing. The shortbread cookies are fruity, sweet and buttery = perfection.
- Perfect for gift giving. These are fantastic for your annual cookie swap, office Christmas party, shared with family and friends aor wrapped as a gift.
One of the things I love the most about making any shortbread is the simple list of ingredients that you need! It's one of those ' isn't baking amazing' moments when you know that the simple list of butter, sugar and flour is going to create the most amazing cookie. The orange zest, cranberries and vanilla extract are perfect Christmas time flavour add-ins that you'll most likely have on hand at this time of year.
Cranberry orange shortbread
- Butter- I recommend unsalted butter. Please don't use margerine as it wont allow the cookies to hold their shape. Ensure the butter is at room temperature so that it can be creamed with the sugar.
- Sugar - Granulated or caster sugar is used. The recipe states granulated as it's more main stream, but either can be used.
- Flour - Plain (all-purpose) flour creates the perfect structure for the cookies to maintain their shape. I suggest weighing the flour out with digital scale. Measuring with cups may add too much flour to the dough and will inturn make them dry.
- Vanilla extract - Add beautiful rounded sweetness to the dough. You can use vanilla bean paste as an alternative.
- Orange zest - I use the zest of 1 large orange in the cookie dough. As an option, use two large oranges if you have a second on hand and want more fresh flavour. I wanted to keep the ingredient list minimal, but if you have it on hand then you can add ½ teaspoon of orange extract to the dough for an orange flavour boost.
- Dried cranberries - Make sure to chop these up as finely as you can so that they distribute throughout the dough and make stamping out the cookies easier. I know it can be tricky as they get so sticky. Tip: add a tablespoon of the flour to the cranberries as you are chopping them as it will reduce their stickiness.
Orange glaze (optional)
- Powdered icing sugar (Confectioners' sugar) - the base of our orange glaze. If it looks super lumpy then pass the sugar through a seive to remove the lumps.
- Orange juice - the zest gets used within the cookie, so why not add some more orange taste into the glaze.
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for the full ingredients list & instructions!*
The process of making shortbread is very straightforward. The stand mixer (or electric hand-held beaters) do all the hard work to create the dough. It comes together easily and quickly and can be rolled out straight away (I provide tips if you are in a hot climate). The star shapes can be swapped for any cookie cutter that you have on hand or visit my FAQ's to see how to turn these into slice and bake cookies.
Make the Cranberry Orange Shorbread dough
1. Rub sugar and orange zest together. This is quite possibly one of my favourite tips to add more flavour to the shortbread. We may as well make the most of the zest and we do this by rubbing it into the sugar for a good minute or so. The sugar will feel quite wet when you have finished and look stained orange but this is perfect and exactly what you want to see! The smell is amazing too! (Image 1 & 2)
TIP: Rub the orange zest into the sugar
The best method to impart maximum orange flavour from the zest. You are essentially massaging the orange skin and this, in turn, releases all the natural orange oils into the sugar.
2. Cream together the butter, sugar, orange zest and vanilla extract. The butter has to be at room temperature for it to be able to cream properly. The butter basically needs to aerate and you'll see this happening by it turning lighter in colour. It won't go as pale as you would normally expect as the rubbed orange zest has stained the sugar orange. But beat for a good 4 to 5 minutes and you'll see the sugar crystals gradually disintegrate during this creaming process. (Image 3 & 4)
Add the vanilla extract in and give it a quick mix together. Make sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
3. Add in flour and cranberries and beat them together. Sift in the flour and cranberries into the creamed butter and on low speed mix them all together until they just combine. The dough will look quite raggedy but you know it has come together when the dough starts to clean the sides of the bowl and clump in the centre and around the blades. (Image 5 & 6).
Reminder: The cranberries need to be super finely chopped. Why? Firstly, the smaller pieces you have will disperse more thoroughly throughout the shortbread meaning every bite will have cranberries inside. Secondly, when it comes to stamping out the shape, large pieces will create uneven edges. Smaller cranberry bits make for more exact shapes.
3. Form a dough and roll out. With your hands, squeeze the cookie dough together in the standmixer bowl, making one cohesive ball. Press it and shape it into a rough disc. Then on a lightly floured surface roll it out with a lightly floured rolling pin. Note: I tend to only flour the surface and the rolling pin and not the top surface of the dough itself. This adds even more flour which can dry out the dough. (Image 7 & 8).
TIP: Is the dough too soft?
It's important to note that if the dough is too soft then it will be impossible to cut out the cookies in the next stage. The air temperature, how soft the butter was to start off with, whether the exact amount of flour was measured all come into play with how soft the dough is at this point.
How will you know if it's too soft? You'll find it really tricky to roll out. It will stick to your rolling pin and not roll out evenly. When you try to stamp out the cookies it will stick to the stamps and lose shape when you try to transfer the cutouts to a baking tray.
What to do if the dough is too soft. If it's too soft to roll out then pop it in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to firm up a little (but not too much otherwise the dough will crack when you try to roll it out) Living in the UK, I find in the heat of summer I have to refrigerate the dough at this point, but in Autumn/Winter I can roll it straight out. If you live in a hot, humid climate then this tip is particularly important.
4. Cut out cookie shapes and chill. Once the dough is rolled out, we can stamp the cookies. Use your cookie cutter, I have my star-shaped one here, and stamp out as many shapes as you can fit in the dough. Lay shortbread cutouts onto a baking tray lined in parchment paper. Lay them onto a baking tray covered in parchment paper.
Bring together any scraps, re-roll and stamp out more cookies. And then again if needs be. The dough is pretty forgiving to re-roll until you have used as much of it as you can. Just be aware that every time you re-form the dough, it will pull in the flour from the work surface and hence may dry out the dough. If you find this happens, then sprinkle a couple of drops of water to the dough as you bring it together. (Image 9).
TIP: Flour the cookie cutters
Have a shallow bowl filled with flour to dunk the cutters into each time you press them into the dough. Doing this will help the shape fall out of the cutter, rather than the dough sticking to the internal edge.
Refrigerate. Now chill those cutout cookies on a baking sheet for 30 minutes minimum, or until the cutouts have hardened. By doing this, the butter won't melt out when it hits the hot oven and the cookies will retain their shape. The result will be perfectly shaped, buttery cookies. (Image 10)
Note: Make this ahead of time by covering them in plastic wrap and then refrigerating them overnight (or even a couple of days!). You can then pop them in the oven as and when you want.
TIP: Chill the dough
It's so important to chill the dough after cutting out the cookie shapes. The butter up until this point has been fairly soft. Refrigerating it allows the better to re-solidify, but also the flour to hydrate and the gluten to relax. Make sure to do this step even if you had to refrigerate the dough before rolling.
5. Bake. The cookies are baked until they're just turning golden on the edges. (Image 11)
Aside from the slightly golden edges, to tell that the shortbread is cooked through, lift one up and look at the bottom. If the cookie still looks wet underneath then they are underdone. Pop them back in for another minute or two to bake right through.
There are quite a few different factors that will affect how long you bake your cookies for and the outcome. Here are points to look out for:
Different oven temps: Your oven can run at a different temperature to mine and with such a short bake time overall, just a couple of degrees will change the length of bake time.
Measurements: Were the ingedients measure out properly. To much flour will dry out the cookie dough and the bake time may need to be reduced.
Thickness of dough: This thinner you roll out the dough- the crispier they will be.
Bake time: Use the recommended time in the recipe but my biggest tip is to go by sight. Buttery and 'short', or crisp. I like my shortbread soft and buttery so bake them the minimum time stated. But if you'd prefer yours on the crisper side then leave them in the oven for a couple of minutes longer.
Orange glaze (optional)
1. Mix ingredients together. The orange glaze is a beautiful addition to the shortbread cookies. But totally optional! Pop all the ingredients into a bowl and stir until smooth and lump-free. It's a thick glaze but you can pop it in the microwave for a maximum of ten seconds to loosen it up a bit if need be. (Image 12 & 13)
- Pistachios: If you want to add a little crunch to the cookies then add ½ cup of chopped pisachios. Cranberry and pistachios work really well together.
- White chocolate: Instead of the glaze, in the past, I've drizzled these with white chocolate after baking. I adore the combination of white chocolate, cranberries and orange and it looks gorgeous over the cookies. Just make sure to leave it long enough to set.
- Re-roll the dough. Once you've cut out the first round of cookies, make sure to bring the dough back together again with your hands, re-shape it then re-roll and cut out more cookies. I do this twice to get the maximum number of cookies from the dough.
- Flour your cookie cutters. This stops the dough from sticking to them and avoids you having to peel the dough from the cutter, ruining the cookie shape.
- Refrigerate the cookie dough. Unless you what a tray of odd-shaped cookies that have spread all over the place, the dough needs to be chilled.
- Keep an eye on the bake time. Everyone's oven runs at a slightly different temperature. With such a short bake time, a minute or two either way will make a difference.
Frequently asked questions
I don't recommend it as the fresh fruit contains too much moisture which will affect the consistency of the dough. Plus fresh cranberries are extremely tart and would need far more sugar added to the dough to combat this. Dried cranberries are the way to go!
If the cookies are too crumbly then either too much flour was added initially (make sure to weigh out the flour using a digital scale) or the cookies were baked for too long.
Absolutely not. As you can see in the image below, I cut out the shortbread dough with a plain round cookie cutter but also a fluted cookie cutter. They taste exactly the same! Ultimately, you can use whichever cutter you like!
I glazed just half of the plain round cookies, but with the crinkle-cut cookies, I dipped them in caster sugar before backing. Just to give you more ideas of how to bake these to suit what you love.
This dough is perfect for slice and bake cookies. Once you've brought the dough together in the standmixer (step 3), bring the dough together with your hands and then shape dough into a log about two inches in diameter and wrap it in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate for two hours or up to 72 hours. When it comes time to bake, cut slices of cookie dough about ½ cm (¼ inch) thick, dip into caster sugar if you like, and lay on a baking tray and bake! It's as easy as that!
How to store and freeze
To store: Cranberry Orange Shortbread Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.
To freeze: Undecorated shortbread can be stored in a freezer-safe container layered between parchment paper and frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight at room temperature.
Equipment you’ll need
- Stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachement: The quickest and easiest way to make the dough. Electric hand-held beaters will were perfectly well also.
- Rolling Pin: To roll the dough and be able to create those cookie shapes.
- Baking sheet: Depending on how large the cookies are, you may need one or two sheets.
More festive recipes that you may like
If you tried this Cranberry Orange Shortbread Recipe or any other recipe on my website, please let me know how you go in the comments below. I love hearing from you. Also, please leave a star rating whilst you're there!
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This post was originally published in December 2019 but has been updated with new photos and content.
Cranberry Orange Shortbread Cookies Recipe
- 60 g caster sugar
- 1 orange, zest
- 125 g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 180 g plain flour (all-purpose)
- 75 g dried cranberries, finely chopped
- 120 g powdered icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
- 30 ml orange juice
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, melted
- Rub sugar and orange zest together. Add the orange zest into the bowl with the sugar and using your fingertips, massage/rub the zest into the sugar granules. This releases the natural oils and will intensify the orange flavour in the cookie. The sugar will become orange stained and will feel wet. This is perfect.
- Cream together the butter, orange sugar and vanilla extract. Line one or two baking trays with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and orange sugar and cream on medium speed until pale and lightened. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add in the vanilla extract and mix again.
- Add in flour and cranberries and beat them together. Add the flour and cranberries into the creamed butter, and, at low speed, mix them all on low speed until they are combined. The dough will look quite raggedy.
- Form a dough and roll out. With your hands, squeeze the cookie dough together making a ball. Press it into a rough disc. Then on a lightly floured surface roll it out to a ½ cm thick. Note: if the dough is too soft at this point then wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes or longer until it firms up slightly and makes it easier to roll out. Keep an eye on it as if the dough is too hard, it will crack when you try to roll it out.
- Cut out cookie shapes and chill. Once the dough is rolled out, use a cookie cutter (I used a leaf shape) to stamp out the cookies. Lay them onto the prepared baking tray. Bring together any scraps, re-roll and stamp out more cookies. And then, do it again if needs be. Just be aware that every time you re-form the dough, it will pull in the flour from the benchtop and hence may dry out the dough. Add a couple of drops of water to the dough if this happens.Now refrigerate the stamped cookies for 30 minutes minimum or until the cutouts have hardened. This means the butter has resolidified and will give you the best possible chance of the cookies retaining their shape in the oven.
- Bake. Preheat the oven to 170°C (335°F). Remove the cookies from the fridge, then bake for 12-15 mins or until golden around the edges. Cool on the tray for ten minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Mix ingredients together. Add the icing sugar, orange juice, and butter to a medium-sized bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined and smooth. If the glaze is too thin, then add a tablespoon at a time of icing sugar until it reaches the right consistency. If it’s too thick, add a teaspoon of orange juice until the correct consistency is reached.Dip cookies into glaze. Dip the face of the cookies into the glaze and gently lift, letting the excess glaze drip off and place on a wire rack and wait for them to set. Serve and enjoy!
All recipes are developed and tested in Metric grams. I strongly recommend that you bake using digital scales for a more accurate result. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.
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