Unable to contain their enthusiasm for our trip to Disneyland last weekend, my daughters tried to pack days in advance.
When I reminded them that they couldn’t actually put anything in their backpacks until the day we left — they’d need them for school — Tessa, who’s six, made herself a packing list. She’s particular, that Tessa, which means she categorized: food first, clothes second.
As Tessa’s catalog of edibles grew, I managed to talk her out of yogurt and juice since I knew we couldn’t get them through airport security. I tried to convince her to pare down even more by explaining that we could actually find food at Disneyland, but she told me that she planned to eat all of her snacks on our way.
The day we left, as I finished packing my bags, I realized that I’m not so different from Tessa; before I tossed shorts, t-shirts, and sundresses into my bag along with a toothbrush and some sunscreen, I baked some lemon-thyme shortbread cookies to take on the plane with us.
As many delicious things do, this recipe begins with butter. After beating cold butter with sugar, salt, lemon zest, and fresh thyme, you gently mix in the flour until everything just hangs together.
At this point, take time to admire all those little green leaves; mixing fresh herbs into cookie dough feels exotic and healthy at the same time. With that zing of lemon zest in there, it’s hard not to eat too much. Resist if you can, or maybe double the recipe. You won’t regret it.
The dough is workable as soon as it’s mixed, so you can shape and bake your cookies right away.
I like to squish the little dough balls with the tines of a fork dipped in sugar to give them a little texture, but if you’re feeling sophisticated and have some extra time, you can give the cookies an interesting design by flattening the dough balls with the bottom of an patterned crystal glass or bowl.
You’ll want to freeze the cookies before baking if you go this route to keep the pattern intact during baking.
These cookies burst with tangy citrus flavor rounded out by a hint of thyme. They’re lively and buttery and sweet, and they’re sturdy enough to travel via zip-lock in a carry-on without falling to pieces.
This turns out to be critical: that tiny bag of peanuts is really too small for a 90 minute flight.
Lemon-Thyme Shortbread Cookies
Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
- ¾ cups granulated sugar, plus 1-2 tablespoons more for shaping cookies
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3-4 large lemons, zested
- 1½ tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, salt, thyme, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add the flour and mix until the dough comes together.
- For immediate baking, roll the dough into 1½-inch balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Gently flatten the dough with fork tines dipped in granulated sugar to prevent sticking. Bake in an oven preheated to 300° F for about 20 minutes, until the bottom edge of the cookies show only the slightest tinge of pale gold. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack.
- To create a more elaborate pattern on your cookies, dip the dough balls in granulated sugar and press them flat with the bottom of an interestingly-patterned crystal glass or bowl. Freeze cookies for 30 minutes to set the design. In an oven preheated to 300° F, bake for 20-22 minutes, until the bottom edge of the cookies show only the slightest tinge of pale gold. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack.