Shortbread. Lime. Tequila. Triple sec. With a sugar-salt rim.
Need I say more?
Okay, fine, I will. These cookies are a great little wrench to throw into any cookie-sharing context. They’re not chocolate–strike one. They’re cocktail-flavored–strike two. They have an unusual take on the sweet-salty trope–strike three. Plus, they’re just a flat-out great cookie.
I’m usually a soft-chewy cookie girl. The crumbly camp is somewhat lost on me. But a good shortbread cookie–which these are–is one of the few that can sway me. When a cookie is crumbly in just the right way, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, buttery-but-not-too-buttery, I find it hard to resist.
Oh, and did I mention the booze?
Now, as with most of my first-time baking endeavors, I wasn’t entirely sold on these cookies from the beginning. Oh, the recipe seemed like a hole-in-one: with the handy confluence of Cinco de Mayo and the birthday of a margarita-obsessed friend, I knew these were definitely a contendah. I could split the dough in half, bake the first batch for my office on Cinco de Mayo, then freeze the other half until the aforementioned margarita fiend’s birthday party.
But when I got down to the actual cookie-making, I got worried. The dough seemed awfully…buttery. When I turned it out on the counter, it threatened to slump into a puddle of barely-contained milkfat. It left a lime-scented slick on my palms. I’d never made shortbread before–see above: not a crumbly-cookie fan–and so, of course, I doubted. Doubted as I stuck the dough in the fridge to firm up all that quivering butter. Doubted as I pulled out the chilled dough, squished it into misshapen logs, and bundled it up for a nap in the freezer. Doubted the whole damn week between doughing and the first round of baking. Could there really be such a thing as too much butter in a shortbread cookie?
You probably know the rest of the story by now. Of course there’s no such thing as too much butter. After a week in the freezer (and a night in the fridge to de-freeze), the dough was firm and cheery daffodil yellow and just waiting to be baked. The salt-rim piece of the puzzle was, quite possibly, the funnest thing I’ve done in a while–I’m a big fan of sticky messy play-with-your-food-type endeavors. And the sugar-coated dough-log sliced beautifully, effortlessly, almost like–dare I say it?–buttah.
I was a little skeptical when they first came out of the oven–they were shortbread cookies, all right, but were they margarita shortbread cookies? The smell was underwhelming; the tequila seemed to have gotten pummeled into oblivion by the triple sec and lime. But after a little cooling time, the cocktail soul of these little morsels was unmistakable. It was all there–sharp, sweet, agave, orange, lime, big flakes of salt–offered smoothly and smugly by a buttery cookie.
I want to say “Ole!” But I’d never forgive myself. So I’m not gonna. Just check out the recipe, already.
Margarita Cookies (makes about four and a half dozen cookies)
Adapted (but only just) from Smitten Kitchen
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg yolk, at room temp
Pinch of salt
2 tsp tequila (maybe even more, if you’re a lush and proud of it)
1 tsp triple sec (see above)
Zest of 2 large limes
Zest of half an orange (I omitted this, but I’d recommend keeping it)
2 cups all-purpose flour
About 1/2 cup coarse sugar (granulated works in a pinch)
About 1 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 egg yolk
In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until it’s smooth and fluffy. Add confectioner’s sugar and beat again until smooth. Beat in egg yolk, then salt, lime and orange zest, tequila, and triple sec. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears. If there are still flecks of flour in the dough, use a rubber spatula to gently fold them in. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap on a flat surface, then form it into a ball (as best you can–you might have gathered by now that this dough is very buttery) and divide it in half. Wrap each half of the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Once the dough is chilled, turn each half onto a flat surface and roll into a log about an inch thick. Re-wrap the two logs of dough in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours. At this point, you can wrap the dough up airtight and store it in the fridge for up to 3 days, or freeze it for up to a month.
Position your oven racks so the oven is divided into thirds. Preheat the oven to 350º F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper (one baking sheet per dough-log).
While the oven is preheating, sugarcoat the cookies: In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk until it’s smooth and liquid. Mix the sugar and salt thoroughly, then spread the mixture out on a piece of wax paper. Working with one log of dough at a time, brush the dough all over with a thin layer of egg yolk. Roll each log of dough in the salt-sugar mixture, using your hands to pick up the excess sugar and pat it lightly over the dough where it needs coating. (It’s a messy job, but…you know.) Use a sharp thin-bladed knife to slice the log into cookies about 1/4 inch thick. Lay them out on the parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving about half an inch of space between them.
Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes, until they’ve set in the middle and the edges have just started to brown. Transfer to a rack or a plate and let cool. Serve to anyone who wants to have some fun on a generic Mexican holiday, but can’t drink on the job. (Meaning me.)
*Deb at Smitten Kitchen notes that these cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days, but they shouldn’t be frozen or the sugar-salt coating will melt.