These incredibly rich and tender pistachio shortbread cookies are baked with a dollop of cranberry orange sauce, then drizzled with vanilla icing, and topped with a crunchy sprinkle of roasted pistachios. They are pretty little jewel-like cookies with all the right flavors and colors for the holiday season.
"We added these cookies to our yearly Christmas cookie boxes and they are so amazing! They were easy to make and the flavor is spot on. Will definitely be making these cookies again next year. Thank you!" - Liz
These are pretty, delicate little cookies with a soft, buttery texture that literally melts in your mouth. They are also bursting with the flavors of pistachios, cranberries, orange, and vanilla - flavors that don't have to be relegated to the holiday season but somehow seem to belong there.
This is technically a whipped shortbread cookie which means the dough is made primarily of sugar, butter, and flour. In whipped shortbread cookies, sugar, and butter are creamed together into a mixture that's light and fluffy before adding the flour.
That's what's happening here but I've added an egg and an egg yolk and less flour in proportion to the amount of butter than what you'd typically find in shortbread to create a cookie that is soft and tender rather than crisp.
Ingredients needed to prepare this recipe
- Roasted, salted, shelled pistachios. I know some of you are going to be raising your eyebrows at the amount of salt in these cookies starting with salted pistachios. But, salt is essential in these cookies. Salt brings out the flavor of other ingredients and in these cookies, it intensifies the buttery, nutty flavor of the cookies and the bright, tart, fruity flavor of the cranberry-orange sauce.
- Salt and pepper. Um... pepper? A little bit of ground black pepper in the cranberry orange sauce might sound strange, but it's magical. If you don't believe me, take a look at the comments from people who've made this strawberry rhubarb jam recipe that also includes a bit of black pepper. Black pepper enhances the natural sweetness of fruit and adds a subtle complexity that is completely delicious.
- Vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract. Vanilla bean paste can be used interchangeably with vanilla extract but has a more intense vanilla flavor. It has a sweet, syrupy consistency that's flecked with vanilla beans so you get all that vanilla bean flavor without having to scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean.
- Cranberries. Fresh or frozen cranberries work equally well to make the cranberry orange sauce that tops the pistachio cookies.
- One navel orange. To make the cranberry-orange sauce an entire orange, peel and all, is ground up and cooked with cranberries and sugar until the mixture turns into a delicious sweet-tart jam. Orange and cranberry is a delicious flavor combination and adds a fruity sweet-tart burst to every bite of these cookies.
- One whole egg + one egg yolk. Why the extra yolk? In contrast to these soft and chewy brown sugar cookies that contain only egg whites, I wanted the consistency of these pistachio cookies to be rich and hearty enough to stand up to the pistachios and cranberry sauce and that extra egg yolk did the trick.
- Butter. These are a kind of shortbread cookie which means they contain a lot of butter. I like to use salted butter in these cookies. But, if you are sensitive to salt, you might want to choose unsalted butter.
- All-purpose flour.
Step-by-step photos and instructions
Cut the orange into pieces and chop it in a food processor, peel and all, until it's finely minced. Add it to a saucepan along with the cranberries and sugar.
Cook the mixture for 25-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until all the cranberries have burst and the mixture is the consistency of thick, chunky jam.
Stir in some salt and pepper and let it cool. The sauce can be prepared up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Add ½ cup of pistachios to a food processor and pulse until the pistachios are very finely chopped. You want the consistency to be almost ground but be careful to stop short of pulverizing them into a paste. Dump them into a mixing bowl.
Add another half cup of pistachios to the food processor and pulse until they are chopped into pieces that are small but larger than the first batch. Set these aside; they'll be used to sprinkle over the tops of the cookies.
Add the flour and salt to the bowl with the ground pistachio and stir with a wire whisk to combine.
Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until the mixture looks aerated, light, and creamy.
Add the whole egg, the egg yolk, and the vanilla and continue beating until the eggs are fully incorporated into the butter and sugar.
Add the flour and pistachio mixture to the bowl and mix on low speed just until everything is mixed together.
Scoop the dough into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and as long as 3 days.
When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Shape the pistachio cookie dough into heaping tablespoon-size balls and then flatten them into chunky disks. Top each cookie with cranberry sauce, sprinkle with some of the chopped pistachios, and bake.
Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet then remove them to a wire rack and let them cool completely while you mix up some simple vanilla icing.
Drizzle the cookies with vanilla icing then sprinkle with more chopped pistachios.
Make ahead and storage instructions
The cranberry orange sauce can be prepared up to 5 days in advance of baking these cookies. Keep it in a covered container in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it. The sauce can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Allow it to defrost in the refrigerator for about 12 hours before using.
The pistachio shortbread dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Keep the dough tightly wrapped or in an airtight container to prevent it from drying out. If frozen, allow to defrost completely in the refrigerator before using.
Once baked, the cookies will keep well at room temperature for up to 48 hours. If you'd like to store them for longer than that, keep them in a covered container in the refrigerator where they will keep well for up to 4 days.
More holiday cookie recipes
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #ofbatteranddough on Instagram. Happy baking!
For the cranberry-orange sauce:
- 1 small to medium size navel orange
- 9 ounces (255 grams/ about 3 ⅓ cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
- ¾ cup (150 grams) sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the pistachio shortbread cookie dough:
- 1 cup (120 grams) shelled roasted and salted pistachios
- 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 ¼ teaspoons table salt, OR 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 12 ounces (3 sticks/ 339 grams) butter, at room temperature, salted or unsalted (see note below)
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (225 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup simple vanilla icing
Make the cranberry-orange sauce:
- If the orange has a stem, remove it. Cut the orange into 8 pieces (do not peel) and place the pieces in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times, until the orange is chopped into very small pieces and there are no large chunks of peel.
- Scrape the orange into a medium-sized saucepan and add the cranberries and sugar. Stir to combine and set the pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until all the cranberries have burst and the mixture has thickened to the consistency of jam, about 25-30 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in about ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper (add as much or as little as tastes good to you). Scoop the cranberry orange sauce into a bowl, let it cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use. The sauce can be prepared up to 5 days in advance.
Make the pistachio cookies:
- Put ½ cup of the pistachios into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Process until the nuts are ground into a fine powder. Dump the powder into a medium-sized bowl. Add the remaining ½ cup of nuts into the bowl of the food processor and pulse until they are chopped into small pieces, but not as finely ground as the pistachio powder. Put the chopped pistachios into another bowl and set aside.
- Add the flour and salt to the bowl with the pistachio powder and stir with a wire whisk to combine.
- Add the butter and sugar to a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed to combine, then on medium-high until the mixture looks light and fluffy, approximately 3 - 4 minutes. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and beat for another minute or so, until completely incorporated.
- Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Scrape the dough into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
- When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape heaping tablespoon-size pieces of dough into balls. If you have a kitchen scale, each ball of dough should weigh about 30 grams. Flatten the balls into thick disks and place them on the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches of space between the cookies. Top each cookie with a heaping teaspoon of cranberry sauce and sprinkle with some chopped pistachios.
- Bake for 14 - 15 minutes. When ready, the cookies appear set but still soft. Let them cool completely on the baking sheet then remove them to a wire baking rack.
- While they cool, make the vanilla icing. Drizzle the cookies with icing then sprinkle with more chopped pistachios.
- The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 48 hours or in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Should you use salted or unsalted butter in these cookies? I feel that, in general, shortbread cookies need quite a bit of salt to keep them from tasting bland. In this recipe, I push the salt envelope even further because salt intensifies their nutty pistachio flavor. Salt also brings out the bright fruity flavor of the cranberry-orange sauce. For all these reasons, I like to use salted butter in these cookies. But, if you are sensitive to salt, you might want to choose unsalted butter.
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Ninja BN601 Professional Plus Food Processor, 1000 Peak Watts, 4 Functions for Chopping, Slicing, Purees & Dough with 9-Cup Processor Bowl, 3 Blades, Food Chute & Pusher, Silver
KitchenAid® 7 Quart Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer, Empire Red
Wonderful Pistachios, No Shells, Roasted & Salted Nuts, 24 Ounce Resealable Bag, Good Source of Protein, Gluten Free, On the Go Snack
HONGBAKE Baking Sheet Pan Set, Cookie Sheet for Oven
OXO Good Grips Everyday Glass Food Scale 11lbs/5kg
Vanilla Bean Paste - Native Vanilla - All Natural Pure Vanilla Bean Paste - Made with Organic Agave Syrup, 4 oz
Native Vanilla - Extracts Made from Premium Vanilla Bean Pods 16 Fl Oz (Pack of 1)
Nutrition Information:Yield: 36 Serving Size: 1 cookie
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 165Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 36mgSodium: 139mgCarbohydrates: 22gFiber: 1gSugar: 13gProtein: 2g