Shortbread treat can be easily matched to any holiday celebration

Intro by Pam George | Photograph by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
From the Winter 2020 issue


At this time of year, you’ll likely find JoAnne Morgan Grape in the kitchen of her Plantation Lakes home. The Millsboro resident makes about 50 cookie platters for friends, neighbors, small business owners and first responders. She also makes cookies for the dementia unit at Mercy Ridge in Lutherville, Md., where her mother-in-law is a patient.

The selection varies, but many are Italian, says Grape, who grew up in South Jersey. Consider pizzelles, wedding cookies, ricotta-butter cookies and biscotti.

Grape collects vintage cookbooks, and her go-to tomes spotlight two British institutions: Fortnum & Mason and Claridge’s. Her thumbprint cookies are filled with Fortnum & Mason Champagne-orange marmalade, Champagne-raspberry marmalade, and lemon curd.

Grape — who worked in visual merchandising for a large shopping mall developer — got her chocolate-chip cookie recipe from fashion designer Donna Karan.

Shortbread tea cookies, however, let her flex her creative muscles. She’s decorated them with Christmas and Hanukkah designs, festooned them with sprinkles and colored sugar, and turned them into sandwich cookies with a filling.

Plus, “they’re versatile,” she notes — you can add lemon, almond, caraway, gingerbread and vanilla for variety.

Grape also has tried many shortbread tea cookie recipes over the years, but the one at right is “everyone’s favorite,” she says. “It’s rich and buttery with a satisfying crunch.”

The secret ingredient? “Use a quality vanilla along with vanilla bean seeds,” Grape maintains. As you’ll see in the recipe, she is a stickler for details.


(Makes about 30 cookies)

1⁄4     cup of granulated caster sugar or granu-lated sugar pulsed in a food processor until it’s fine
Zest from 1 organic, unwaxed lemon
3⁄4     pound of sweet butter, softened
1⁄2     of a vanilla bean, split open and seeds removed
1⁄2     teaspoon of Tahitian vanilla extract
1          cup of confectioner’s sugar
1⁄2     teaspoon of salt
3          cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
Decorating ingredients of your choice (sprinkles, sugar, icing, etc.)

STEP 1 The night before baking, grate the lemon zest into the granulated sugar to allow the citrus to permeate the sugar.

STEP 2 Using a stand mixer, combine butter, vanilla seeds and extract on medium speed for one minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl’s sides.

STEP 3 Add the confectioner’s sugar and “cream” the ingredients together on medium speed. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.

STEP 4 Add the flour and salt on low speed until the flour mixture is completely incorporated.

STEP 5 Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for four hours.

STEP 6 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and roll out the chilled dough to a 5⁄8-inch thickness.

STEP 7 With cookie or biscuit cutters, cut the cookies.

STEP 8 Bake at 20 minutes until they’re pale golden brown around the edges.

STEP 9 Wait until the cookies are cool before decorating. The shortbread will stay fresh for up to a week in airtight containers.