With cloves, coriander, and brandy-soaked fruit, these Spiced Raisin Swirl Shortbread Cookies make for a beautiful light treat with your coffee or tea.
[Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Torakand Adventures LLC and is part of a series of recipes developed for the fictional fantasy setting of Lost Colonies, an immersive live-action roleplaying community in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area.]
In this especially delicious cookie, swirls of buttery shortbread wrap around a filling of brandy-soaked raisins, fresh lemon zest, and light brown sugar. Inspired by Middle Eastern flavor combinations, a touch of almond flour and clove and coriander spices sets these shortbread cookies apart from your traditional fare. Especially fabulous with a cup of rich coffee or milky tea, these Spiced Raisin Swirl Shortbread Cookies will be a beautiful addition to your dessert table.Jump to Recipe
This recipe is part of an ongoing series inspired by the fictional cultures and traditions of Lost Colonies, a live action role playing experience based in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area. (You can learn more about this collaboration in the first post of the series.)
Naming Day in Bidawa Hadir
After a long day of hard travel, I arrived at the home of the child’s grandparents late in the evening, long after dinner would have been served. The Naming Day ceremony was only a night away, and the last thing I wanted was to be an inconvenience. I’d resigned myself to a meal of the remaining hard rations I had in my pack, but I should have known better. As I was warmly welcomed by my hosts into the foyer, my weary eyes fell on the grazing table and a large silver tray of spiced raisin cookies, stuffed dates, crunchy chickpeas, and bunches of fresh grapes. Brushing off offered apologies for the meager state of the table, I happily made myself a plate. Shortbread never tasted so good. —Excerpt from A Traveler’s Guide to Sobukand by Donla Pheinkuk
In the dry summer climate of the fictional isle of Bidawa Hadir, few family events are as lauded and joyful as Naming Day. In a weeklong celebration hosted by the extended family, a newborn child – and subsequently their parents – is showered with love, attention, and copious gifts. The auspicious ceremony revolves around an important milestone in every child’s life – their Naming Day. Here, after entering a period of relative seclusion as they adjusted to their new life with a child, the parents formally introduce their new baby to the world. While typically only the immediate family of the parents spend the week in celebration, extended family, friends, and neighbors pay their respects to the new member of the community throughout the days before and after the formal ceremony.
As with any joyous holiday, feasting and breaking bread is an essential part of tradition. With so many visitors coming and going, formal meals are done away with, replaced with a central grazing table of rotating savories, sweets, and other refreshments. An empty grazing table is not only seen as bad etiquette, but even a bit of bad luck. Because of this, hosts often keep trays of assorted dried fruits and cookies on reserve, ready to quickly “fill” the table between larger meals. For many, these homemade sweets are often looked forward to the most, as every family has their own favorite recipes to share.
Why Brandy Soaked Raisins?
In developing this shortbread recipe, I had to do a bit of a deep dive into not only applicable flavors for an environment inspired by an semi-arid, Mediterranean climate, but also the types of fruits and vegetables available. To no one’s surprise, I was particularly caught up on the subject of available liqueurs, as I knew I wanted to soak the raisins in something for the filling.
Traditional Greek and Middle Eastern liqueurs – like sambucca and arak – are not mainstream offerings in the United States, making them a little too much of a specialty ingredient for my typical audience (especially since liquor can be a restricted substance to order online, depending on your state).
And then I looked into brandy. While most of us are familiar with French cognac or American apple brandies, brandy itself is a term used for any liqueur made from fruit, fruit mash, or fruit wine. A variety of grape brandies are made all over the world, as well as apple, pear, berry – the list goes on. Each has its own flavors and uses, but for this recipe just use your favorite variety (or that bottle gathering dust in your liquor cabinet). The very small amount of liquor adds subtle flavor and moisture to the cookie without the alcoholic burn, so as long as the contents are even remotely palatable, you should get a good outcome.
A Quicker Cookie
Love these flavors but hate the idea of a multi-step cookie? These shortbread cookies can easily be converted into a much simpler, one step drop cookie. The end result will not be as refined or the flavors as distinct, but everything will still come together deliciously. If you are short on time or patience, this is the way to go.
Gather all of the ingredients described in the below recipe, but omit the extra brown sugar and tablespoon of butter listed in the filling ingredients. Soak the raisins are prescribed for at least an hour in brandy.
Follow the directions for making the cookie dough. Before adding the dry mixture to the wet mixture, drain the raisins and add them to the dough, as well as the lemon zest. Add the dry mixture as described.
If you have the time, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for an hour. If you don’t, chill in the fridge for as long as it takes your oven to pre-heat to 375 degrees F.
Line to baking sheets with parchment paper and spoon out balls of dough, leaving an inch of space between on the sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are just golden.
And there you go: Spiced Raisin Cookies, the rustic way.
Spiced Raisin Swirl Shortbread Cookies
- 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
- ¾ cup light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup almond flour (plus some for rolling)
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- ¼ teaspoon coriander
- ¼ cup raisins
- ½ cup brandy
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
- Zest of 1 lemon
Make the shortbread dough:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a paddle attachment (or in a bowl with a hand mixer), cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Blend in the lemon juice, egg, vanilla extract, and brandy until just combined.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, salt, and spices). One cup at a time, incorporate the dry mixture into the wet until just combined.
- Divide the dough into two parts. Form each into rectangle shapes about an inch thick, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour in the freezer (up to overnight).
Make the filling:
- While the dough is chilling, soak the raisins in brandy for at least an hour (up to overnight). If soaking longer than hour, make sure to cover the container to prevent contaminations. Keep in brandy until use.
- Whisk together the light brown sugar, softened butter, and lemon zest. Drain the brandy from the raisins (reserving for another use). Stir the raisins into the sugar mixture.
Roll out the dough:
- Once thoroughly chilled, prepare the dough one half at a time. Dust a clean surface with almond flour to prevent sticking and gently roll out the rectangle in all directions. It should be about ¼ inch thick, with one long side closest to you slightly tapered thinner.
- Spread the sugar-butter filling across the dough in a thin layer, spreading out the zest and raisins as evenly as possible.
- Starting along the thicker long side, tightly roll the rectangle of dough towards you, so that the thinnest edge end ups on the outside of the spiral. Gently roll the tube of dough back and forth a bit so that it holds its shape. Wrap this tube of dough in plastic wrap and chill for another hour. Repeat with the second rectangle of dough.
Bake the cookies:
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees F and prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Once chilled, use a sharp knife to slice the log of dough into 1/4th inch rounds. Spread the rounds out on the parchment with an inch or so between and bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest for about 5 minutes, then remove the cookies to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature and enjoy within 4 days.
A More Rustic Cookie: Converting this recipe to a drop-style cookie with less steps is easy. Omit the extra brown sugar and tablespoon of butter in the filling ingredients. Soak and drain the raisins from the brandy are proscribed above. Follow the directions for making the cookie dough, but before adding the dry mixture to the wet mixture, add the raisins and lemon zest. If you have the time, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for an hour, or at least as long as it takes for your oven to heat to 375 degrees F. Line to baking sheets with parchment paper, and spoon out balls of dough, leaving an inch of space between on the sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are just golden.
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