tahini shortbreads with apricots, pistachios and dark chocolate

Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land

People. I’m going to level with you—I don’t have much to say today. I’ve been traveling like a crazy person this month to see friends and family (and for mental-health-preserving sun breaks to the desert of course). Beau left his corporate job to work with me full time. We just launched our first retreat of 2019. Plus, you know, THE HOLIDAYS.

It’s been a big month and we’re not even halfway through.

Though my brain is a bit on the fried side, I didn’t want to leave you without a holiday cookie this year! I’ve cut back on a lot of holiday hoopla and obligations, but baking holiday cookies is a tradition I cherish. It means time to be alone in the kitchen with a podcast or a favorite album spinning on the record player. It’s a few hours of chopping and measuring and mixing and standing in front of a warm oven that always restores a little of my sanity during this overfull time of year.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

I got the idea for these shortbreads after making this Red Rice with Coriander, Apricots and Herbs. I had half a bag of my favorite dried apricots sitting in the pantry next to my favorite bar of dark chocolate. Which meant that every time I opened the pantry door, I broke off a piece of chocolate, fished a couple pieces of apricot out of the bag and made myself a tiny “sandwich”. As one does.

The sweet-tart apricots were absolutely perfect against the dark chocolate and the flavor combination got stuck in my head (like a Justin Bieber song, but better). When I sat down to brainstorm what sort of cookies I wanted to bake this year, I already knew it was going to involve apricots and chocolate. I remembered I had a bag of Iranian pistachios in my freezer from my last trip to Paris. Then I asked myself what flavor goes with chocolate, apricots and pistachios? And voilà—these tahini shortbreads were born.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land

We leave town again in two days. I have a mountain of laundry to do. Suitcases to pack. A grumpy old cat to transport to the neighbors’ house. But somehow I don’t mind at all. I’ve given in to the chaos of the month and I’m feeling like everything will turn out how it’s supposed to. We’ll see family and friends and listen to cheesy Christmas music and spend way too much time in line at the post office and probably drink too much holiday punch before it’s all said and done.

So I guess I do have something to say after all: This month, try not to worry if things feel a little hectic and out of hand. If you’ve got presents to wrap and dinners to attend and you maybe hit the eggnog a little harder than you’d intended at your office Christmas party. It’s all par for the course. The perfectly imperfect chaos that makes the season bright. Just remember to breathe. (And maybe bake yourself some cookies.)

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

P.S. If you're looking to for an extra-special gift for that extra-special someone in your life (or even your own extra-special self), registration just opened for our May 2019 retreat in Alentejo, Portugal!

Tahini Shortbreads with Apricots, Pistachios and Dark Chocolate

  • 1 1/4 sticks (140g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (95g) powdered sugar
  • 1 cup (240 mL) well-stirred tahini
  • 1 3/4 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or flaky sea salt
  • 3/4 cup (90g) roughly chopped dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup (50g) roughly chopped pistachios
  • 1/2 cup (75g) roughly chopped dried apricots

*Notes: Blenheim apricots from Trader Joe’s are my absolute favorites and the only one’s I use for baking. They have beautiful color and the perfect balance of sweet and tartness. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, it looks like you can buy them on Amazon.

- This is my favorite baking chocolate. But any dark chocolate will work. I recommend chopping your own chocolate over using chips since chips are formulated to hold their shape when baked and are harder to slice.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

Combine the butter, powdered sugar and tahini in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until smooth, 3-4 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Add the flour and salt and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Add the chocolate, pistachios and apricots and mix by hand until just incorporated.

Divide the dough in half. Using a piece of parchment paper, roll each piece of dough into a log approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to overnight. Once the dough is firm, you can also tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap, seal it in a freezer bag and freeze until ready to use. Thaw the dough slightly before slicing.

When you're ready to bake off your cookies, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Slice the logs into coins just under 1/2-inch thick and place them on a sheet pan or large plate. (These can be a bit tricky to slice due to the chocolate. If you hit a chunk of chocolate, just saw back and forth until you get through it. If that slice falls apart a bit, just press it back into shape before freezing. This dough is very forgiving.) Place the sliced cookies in the freezer for 15 minutes while the oven preheats (this ensures they don't slump or spread in the oven).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the frozen cookies on it, leaving at least an inch between cookies. Bake until firm around the edges and light golden brown on the bottom, 16-20 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheet. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Adapted from Soframiz by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

hazelnut amaretti with orange and vanilla

hazelnut amaretti with orange and vanilla // image: Olaiya Land

Have I mentioned what a sap I am about Christmas? This morning I might have teared up a little bit listening to Michael Bublé sing I’ll be Home for Christmas. (Don’t judge.)

I’ve always loved Christmas. It probably started because my birthday is on Christmas day. When I was little, the holiday season represented a shower of gifts and cake and celebration after a year-long drought spent watching my friends celebrate their non-Christmas birthdays.

People always think Christmas birthdays suck. But they only suck if your family and friends suck. My family has always celebrated Christmas on December 24th and my birthday on the 25th. And I’ve never once received a combo Christmas/birthday present. So I think it’s a pretty sweet deal.

hazelnut amaretti with orange and vanilla // image: Olaiya Land

Now that I’m an adult and no longer staying up to catch a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer, I still love Christmas. I love the decorations and the food and the music. I love the baking and the wrapping and the anticipation that if we're lucky, there just might be snow. 

But Christmas and I had a dark patch.

There was a period when I had let things spiral up into Martha-Stewart-level insanity and was crumbling under the pressure to buy amazing gifts, decorate the perfect tree, bake and ship an assortment of holiday cookies and plan a Christmas Eve feast like no other. 

As I wrote in this post, it struck me (probably while I was stuck in holiday traffic) that I was super pissed about Christmas. I wanted to abandon the whole thing, book a flight to a sunny beach somewhere and drink margaritas for about a week. Not exactly holiday cheer.

That was the year I decided to reign in the crazy. I took a step back and asked myself what the essence of the season was for me. And of course it was all about people. Letting people know they’re loved and appreciated. Spending time with our friends and family. And also taking some time away from work to recharge our batteries (possibly by watching many holiday movies snuggled on the couch with said loved ones).

hazelnut amaretti with orange and vanilla // image: Olaiya Land
hazelnut amaretti with orange and vanilla // image: Olaiya Land

So now I’m on a mission to keep Christmas easy, breezy and fun. Like it should be. To that end, I’m teaming up with Megan from Cream & Honey to bring you a month of posts centered around celebrating the holiday in style without losing your mind. We’ll have recipes, entertaining tips, gift guides. Maybe even a holiday playlist with Michael Bublé crooning I’ll be Home for Christmas. (Don’t play it cool. You know you secretly love the Bubs.)

I’m kicking things off with this recipe for Hazelnut Amaretti with Orange and Vanilla. This is my version of a cookie I saw in my friend Caroline’s Instagram feed. She was kind enough to translate the recipe from Dutch and send it to me. After I tasted them, I decided these cookies would be perfect with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Because I am incapable of following a recipe as written, and because I love hazelnut with coffee, I played around with Caroline’s recipe until I came up with this version. 

That I was the year I decided to reign in the crazy. I took a step back and asked myself what the essence of the season was for me. And of course it was all about people. Letting people know they’re loved and appreciated. Spending time with our friends and family. And also taking some time away from work to recharge our batteries (possibly by watching many holiday movies snuggled on the couch with said loved ones).

Calling these cookies is a little misleading. They lie somewhere between a cookie and a confection. On the first day, they are crisp on the outside with a bit of softness in the center. On the next day, however, they are tender and chewy under their crisp, airy crust. I like them better the second day. I imagine that, like most amaretti-type cookies they will hold for ages in a well-sealed tin. But they have yet to make it past a second day in our house, so I can’t tell you for sure. 

To help you keep things simple this holiday season, these are super easy to make. These come together in about 10 minutes (plus additional chilling and baking time, when you can be sipping a glass of wine and waiting for these to come out of the oven so you can dunk them). You don’t have to candy citrus or roll out shortbread or make a citrus glaze like I asked you to do for last year’s holiday cookie (it was so good though!). You can freeze the dough and bake these off as you need them. Aaaand these little guys are sturdy. They will happily hold their shape if you decide to ship them across town or to the other side of the globe. Ta-da!

That I was the year I decided to reign in the crazy. I took a step back and asked myself what the essence of the season was for me. And of course it was all about people. Letting people know they’re loved and appreciated. Spending time with our friends and family. And also taking some time away from work to recharge our batteries (possibly by watching many holiday movies snuggled on the couch with said loved ones).

And for even more inspiration on how to keep the holiday season Classy Not Crazy this year, click on over to Megan’s recipe for Pine Shortbread Cookies. In addition to this awesome recipe (Pine, people! It's hip. It's a thing. Look it up.), you'll also get Megan's tips on how to plan a killer holiday party with ease and some great gift ideas.

Let me know in the comments below what sort of holiday tips you'd like more of. And I’ll be back next week with more ideas for keeping your holiday baller status high and your stress-levels low.



Hazelnut Amaretti with Orange and Vanilla

  • 200g (1 1/2 cups) raw hazelnuts
  • 200g (1 cup) granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons coconut flour (All-Purpose flour or cornstarch will also work)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • Whites from 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

*Notes: I highly recommend using weight measurements for all baking, since it is so much more precise than volume measurements. I especially recommend it for these cookies since the size (and thus volume) of hazelnuts can vary so widely.

- I also made a batch of these with almonds instead of the hazelnuts and lemon zest instead of the orange that was lighter in flavor, but also delicious. Feel free to play around with the nuts and flavorings to make these cookies your own. The only test batch I didn't love were the 100% pistachio version. They were way too rich. If you want to make a pistachio version, I would use roughly half pistachios and half almonds.

Preheat your oven to 300°F/150°C. 

Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed sheet pan and toast until fragrant, about 12 minutes. Remove the nuts from the pan and place them in the middle of a large kitchen towel. Bring the four corners of the towel towards each other and twist them together to make a little parcel. Vigorously rub the hazelnuts together inside the towel for a minute or so. When you open the towel most of the skins should have fallen off. Lift the nuts off the towel with a slotted spoon, leaving the skins behind (it's ok if some are still attached) and place them on a plate to cool. Set aside.

When the hazelnuts are completely cool, place them in a food processor along with 150 g (3/4 cup) of the sugar, the coconut flour, baking powder, orange zest, and the salt. Using a sharp paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds from the pod. Add the seeds to the mixture in the food processor. Process until the mixture looks like sand. (Take care not to over-process or your nuts will start to turn to nut butter.) Set aside.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat at medium speed with the whisk attachment. (You can also use a hand mixer or beat the eggs by hand with a whisk.) When the whites look foamy, increase the speed to high and gradually sprinkle in the remaining 50g (1/4 cup) sugar. It should take about 30-45 seconds to drizzle in the sugar--don't rush it. Continue to beat at high speed until the whites are dense and glossy and just hold soft peaks.

Gently fold the nut mixture into the egg whites. The egg whites will deflate quite a bit, but try to use a light hand so the dough retains some of the lightness from the whipped eggs. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes (this makes it easier to scoop).

When the dough has chilled, place the powdered sugar in a rimmed plate or pie pan. Use a small scoop (I used a 1-tablespoon scoop) to form walnut-sized balls of dough. Drop them in the powdered sugar and roll them around until they are coated in sugar. Transfer the coated dough balls to the refrigerator or freezer to rest for another 30 minutes. I prefer to freeze mine. If you want to freeze them for later use, just pop the coated dough balls in a freezer bag once they're sold and bake from frozen.

If the dough balls have absorbed most of the powdered sugar coating, roll them in the powdered sugar again before baking. Then place them on a parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving 2 inches between cookies. Using a sharp knife, cut a shallow "X" onto the top of each cookie. This is what gives these cookies their crispy, craggy surface. Bake for 15-20 minutes. You want them to be golden on the bottom with crispy edges and soft in the middle. Keep in mind that they will crisp up as they cool. For a softer, blonder cookie, bake closer to 15 minutes. For a crispier, slightly darker cookie, bake closer to 20. Bake completely frozen dough balls for 18-20 minutes.

When the cookies are done, cool them on their pan for 5-10 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in an air-tight container after baking.

That I was the year I decided to reign in the crazy. I took a step back and asked myself what the essence of the season was for me. And of course it was all about people. Letting people know they’re loved and appreciated. Spending time with our friends and family. And also taking some time away from work to recharge our batteries (possibly by watching many holiday movies snuggled on the couch with said loved ones).

grapefruit-fennel shortbread cookies

grapefruit fennel shortbread cookies on

Hello people!

Are you in the holiday spirit yet? Despite having a mountain of work to finish this month, I’m feeling especially festive. Since we’ll be spending the holidays in Paris this year, Beau and I have decided to skip getting a tree. We haven’t strung any lights. And there are no prettily wrapped presents waiting to be opened on Christmas morning.

grapefruit fennel shortbread cookies on

What I have done is: 
1) Play a lot of Christmas music. (There’s nothing like singing along to All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey at the top of your lungs. Sorry neighbors!)  

2) Host a holiday pop-up dinner with my friend Kyle where I got to feed a bunch of awesome folks. I never get tired of seeing peple eat, drink and laugh around my table.

3) Spend time with good friends (which might have led to a few too many rounds of late-night Manhattans).

4) Bake like a crazy person. I’ve made waaay too many of these kuri squash and olive oil cakes, a mountain of seeded toffee bark, jars of coconut curd, stacks of these cheesy crackers, 6 batches of these German spice cookies. And last but not least, these grapefruit-fennel shortbread cookies.

grapefruit fennel shortbread cookies on
grapefruit fennel shortbread cookies on

These cookies weren’t originally on the agenda. But when Holly and Natalie from The Modern Proper emailed to say they were putting together a #calmandbrightcookienight, I said I was in. Because there’s no such thing as too many cookies at the holidays!

These turned out to be my favorite of all the homemade holiday gifts I've made this year. They’re subtly sweet with a bright hit of citrus. But it’s the herbaceous fennel that seals the deal for me. If you like sweets with a little savory twist, these guys are for you. 

As always, I hope you’ll make this recipe your own. Cook them as the recipe directs or get creative and try a different citrus (I’m thinking meyer lemon would be stellar) or different spice. Chop up candied citrus and throw it in the batter along with a handful of nuts. Glaze. Don’t glaze. Roll them in sanding sugar before baking. Or give them a dip in some melted chocolate. It’s up to you. 

grapefruit fennel shortbread cookies on
grapefruit fennel shortbread cookies on
grapefruit fennel shortbread cookies on

For even more sweet inspiration join the #calmandbrightcookienight celebration! Below is a list of all the bakers contributing to the festivities. If you've been having trouble figuring out what to bake this year, we’ve got you covered. Check out all these gorgeous holiday cookies--hopefully you’ll find a new favorite blogger or two to follow! 

Wishing you all a Calm and Bright holiday,


The Modern Proper | Coconut Thumbprint Cookies with Salted Caramel
Wood and Spoon | Candied Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies
Floating Kitchen | Chocolate Peppermint Thumbprint Cookies 
Brewing Happienss | Mint Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies 
The Vintage Mixer | Ginger Creams with Browned Butter Icing 

Wu Haus | Raw Vegan Gingerbread Cookie Sandwiches
The Almond Eater | Homemade Almond Biscotti
Chocolate + Marrow | Brown Butter Gingerbread Madeleines   
Hungry Girl Por Vida | Lemon Pistachio Linzer Cookies
Honestly YUM | Ricciarelli (Italian Almond Cookies) 

Husbands That Cook | Chocolate Sugar Cookies
The Judy Lab | Sea Salt Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies
Gather and Dine | Chocolate Almond Spelt Cookies
Betty S Liu | Cardamom Persimmon Cookies with Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Ganache
Harvest and Honey | Milk & Cookies

Bakerita | Chocolate Rugelach (gluten free + refined sugar free) 
The Fauxmartha | Snowball Cookies
The Kitchen Paper | Soft Toffee Cookies
Life Is But A Dish | Chocolate Peppermint Cream Cookies
Oh Honey Bakes | Pomegranate Pistachio and Almond Biscotti 

The Brick Kitchen | Coconut Raspberry Wagon Wheels
Alexandra Cooks | Classic Cream Cheese Cutout Cookies
Hello My Dumpling | Ginger Viennese Whirl Cookies with Matcha Passion Fruit Filling
Snixy Kitchen | Peppermint Chocolate Marshmallow Cookies
Tending the Table | Almond Macaroons with Satsuma Marmalade

PDX Food Love | Chocolate Bourbon Swirl Meringues
Lasting Ingredient | Lemon Lime Shortbread
Heart Beet Kitchen | Chocolate Peppermint Crinkle Cookies
Carly Diaz | Dark Chocolate Pistachio Shortbread Cookie
Cloudy Kitchen | Early Grey Shortbread
Lena’s Kitchen Blog | Shortbread Cookies Three Ways 

Grapefruit-Fennel Shortbread Cookies

  • 9 oz. (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling and shaping
  • 2 oz. (1/2 cup) cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons finely ground fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 9 oz. (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 oz. (6 tablespoons) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely-grated grapefruit zest (from 1 large grapefruit)
  • ¼ cup freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1 recipe Grapefruit Glaze (recipe below)
  • ½ cup thinly sliced candied grapefruit or orange zest (recipe below)

*Notes: Rolling shortbread cookies out can be challenging if your dough is too cold or too warm. The trick is to check it frequently once you’ve removed it from the fridge and to roll it when it’s just pliable but still cool to the touch. If the edges crack immediately when you roll it, it’s too cold. Just push the cracks back together and let the dough warm up a bit more. If the dough gets too warm and wants to stick to your work surface and pin, place it back in the fridge to firm up a bit before proceeding. 

- Alternately, if you don’t want to roll the dough out, you can roll the dough into a log and go the slice-and-bake route.

- Feel free to use store-bought candied citrus peel to garnish these. (If you’re in Seattle, PFI has really good quality candied citrus around the holidays.) If you’d like to make your own, the recipe is below.

- These cookies would be delicious made with other citrus fruits and/or spices. You may need to adjust the amount of zest and juice up or down a bit depending on how tart or bitter your fruit is. 

grapefruit fennel shortbread cookies on

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, fennel and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Add the sugar and continue to cream until smooth, 2-3 more minutes. Add the zest and juice and mix just to combine. On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Mix for 30 seconds more.

Spoon half of the dough into the middle of a large piece of plastic wrap. With lightly floured hands, gently pat the dough into a ½-inch thick round. Wrap tightly and refrigerate until firm. Repeat with the rest of the dough. 

When firm, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 5-10  minutes. Remove from the plastic wrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough and on your rolling pin. Roll to ¼-inch thickness, rotating the dough often and flouring as needed to make sure it doesn’t stick to your work surface. Cut to desired shape, periodically flouring your knife or cookie cutter so the dough doesn’t stick. Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet pan and freeze solid. (I know all this chilling and shaping and freezing may sound a bit fussy, but it will keep your cookies from slumping or spreading when you bake them. Freezing your dough = the key to pretty cookies and pie crusts.)

Bring your dough scraps together into a ball and chill briefly before re-rolling and cutting more cookies. You can re-roll your scraps twice. More than that will start make your cookies tough.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Place the cookies at least 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined sheet pan (not the one you froze them on--that will prolong the bake time). Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate your pan(s) and continue to bake until the bottom edges are just golden brown, about 4 minutes more. Take care not to overcook the cookies.

Transfer the sheet pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Then transfer cookies to the wire rack to cool. When completely cool, dip your cookies face-down in the grapefruit glaze and top with sliced candied citrus peel if desired.

Makes about 4 dozen 2-inch cookies.

Grapefruit Glaze

  • 16 oz (about 4 cups) powdered sugar, sifted

  • 3-4 tablespoons freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice

Place the sifted sugar in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in 3 tablespoons of the juice. If the glaze seems too thick, add more juice, one teaspoon at a time. You want a glaze that flows like honey and briefly forms a ribbon on the surface when you pour it from a spoon. 

This will keep for several days if you place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the glaze before tightly wrapping the whole bowl in plastic wrap.

Makes about 1 cup of glaze.

Candied Citrus Peel

  • 8 large lemons or 4 oranges or 2 grapefruit

  • 2 cups granulated sugar, plus additional for rolling if desired

grapefruit fennel shortbread cookies on

Using a sharp paring knife, slice along the curve of each citrus fruit from top to bottom cutting through the peel but not into the fruit (make 4 cuts for lemons, 6 for oranges or 8 for grapefruit). Use your fingers to remove the peel from the fruit. If the pith is thick, remove some of it by flattening the piece of peel and slicing horizontally. Be careful not to remove all of the pith or you will have flimsy little pieces of candied zest. Cut each piece of peel lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips. 

Place the sliced peel in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to the boil and then drain. This removes excess bitterness from the peel. Repeat this process at least two times. Taste the peels, if they are still bitter for your taste, repeat one more time.

Place the sugar in a saucepan and add 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil. Add the peels, reduce heat and cook at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, until the peels are translucent and soft, 45-60 minutes. The time will vary based on the thickness of the peels.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the strips of peel to a metal cooling rack set over a parchment-lined sheet pan. When dry, roll in sugar if desired. Candied peels will keep for several weeks in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 ½ cups.