Some of us are a bit, shall we say, more sentimental than others. And there's nothing like the one-two combo of the end of the year and the holiday season to bring it out. That ornament that you handmade in kindergarten; the nutcracker your siblings broke (and then superglued together) in 1990-something; the annotated and vanilla-splotched recipe your grandmother passed down to your mother—you don't dare get rid of one bit of it. But nothing seems to stay more true to tradition quite like holiday cookies. Even if my German-American friends can't sprechen one word of Deutsche they know every nuance of their Oma's pfeffernusse cookies.
One cookie that is 100% holiday in our household are these Italian Walnut Shortbread Cookies. Well, my Noni (aka Italian grandmother) claims they're of Italian origin but I've never seen these cookies anywhere else. Made like a leavened (as in, with egg) shortbread cookie and then frosted, it's a cookie I've never seen anywhere in Italy or here in the States. Despite that, they're as big a part of a fabric of our family's holiday traditions as is the pineapple-cream cheese-lime JELL-O mold that shows up on every holiday table without fail. They're such a symbol of the holidays that we send them to our Italian-American relatives across the country every December without fail.
So, when Earth Balance asked me to make a vegan version of a family favorite (and see if anyone would notice the swap), I immediately thought of these cookies. Our family has been eating more and more plant based these past few years and with each holiday season, we try to add a bit more of it into the menu so making a plant-based version of these Italian Walnut Shortbread Cookies was a no-brainer.
What you need to know is that these cookies are a hit because of their texture and subtle flavor. They're a perfect mix of crumbly and chewy and a bit sweet and salty. The butter makes these cookies super tasty and the eggs keep the dough workable so I wanted to make sure I could make the swap and still get that signature texture. After a few rounds of tweaks, my mother (who is the authority when it comes to making these cookies) did a taste test couldn't tell the difference between the original Italian Walnut Shortbread Cookies and the ones where I had made the swap.
So here they are: an updated version of this very classic cookie (in our family at least) that's so subtly sweet and perfectly textured (but super easy to make) that they're destined to become your new holiday treat!
cut into small pieces
Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until well combined. Add the butter and walnuts and rub the butter between thumb and forefingers to incorporate into flour mixture until butter is in lima bean-sized pieces and rub into flour mixture until mixture forms pea-size pieces (some big chunks should remain) and comes together in fist-sized clumps when squeezed, about 1 minute.
Make a well and add the oil, vanilla, and almond milk and mix until the dough comes together and is moist but not sticky. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough into 1-tablespoon balls and form into oblong cookies.. Place at least 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and press a thumbprint into the center of each cookie, about 1/2-inch deep.
Heat an oven to 375°F, arrange a rack in the middle, and place cookies in the fridge until the oven heats up, at least 10 minutes. Bake until cookies are golden brown on the bottom, about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before frosting. Frost and serve.
Unbaked cookies can be placed on a rimmed baking sheet, wrapped with plastic wrap, and refrigerated up to 2 days ahead. Transfer from refrigerator directly to oven when ready to bake.
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