Julie Van Rosendaal's wintery cookie swap picks

Try these two recipes for your fill of treats with currants, cranberries, espresso and chocolate.

Currants, cranberries, espresso and chocolate make these sweets a comforting party hit

Eccles cakes and chocolate espresso shortbreads would be welcome additions to any cookie swap, says food columnist Julie Van Rosendaal. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

It's cookie baking season.

Here are two new recipes to add to your repertoire, whether you're planning a cookie swap or not.

The eccles cakes are particularly easy to make in larger batches.

Chocolate espresso shortbread

Freshly ground coffee can go directly into shortbread dough. Beating it along with the butter and sugar will spread the flavour further. You'll still get little bits of coffee in each bite, along with dark chocolate.

By creating a dent in the middle, you can make your cookies resemble coffee beans. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)


1 cup butter, at room temperature

¾ cup icing sugar

1 tbsp (or more) ground coffee

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cornstarch

Pinch of salt

¼ to ½ cup finely chopped dark chocolate


Preheat the oven to 325˚F.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, icing sugar and coffee for two to three minutes, until pale and light.

Add the flour, cornstarch and salt and stir by hand or beat on low speed.

Add chopped chocolate as you stir, until the dough comes together. It will look dry so you may have to get in there and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Even get in there with your hands.

Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls, then squeeze them a little to make an oval shape.

Place the balls on a parchment-lined sheet.

Chocolate espresso shortbread can be made without coffee if you prefer. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Press down the middle with a bamboo skewer or chopstick to make them resemble coffee beans.

Bake for 12 minutes, or until pale golden around the edges on the bottom.

Serving: Makes about 1 ½ dozen cookies.

Alternatively, if you want to skip the coffee, leave it out of the shortbread. Or you can replace it with a bit of grated orange zest.

Shape the dough into balls.

Press with the bottom of a glass to flatten before baking or press the dough into an eight or nine-inch square baking pan.

Prick all over the top with a fork and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden.

Cut into squares while they're still a bit warm.

Eccles cakes

While these technically aren't cookies, they're just like cookies: small sweets you can nibble out of hand.

They're easier to make than most, particularly if you start with pre-rolled puff pastry dough.

Spread butter, brown sugar and currants — or even chopped dried cranberries or cherries, candied citron. Anything goes. Dust with a shake of cinnamon.

Eccles cakes can be filled with dried cranberries, cherries or candied citron. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)


½ package of frozen puff pastry, thawed

½ cup currants

¼ cup packed dark brown sugar

2 tbsp butter, softened

Pinch of cinnamon (optional)

1 egg, lightly beaten

Regular or coarse sugar, for sprinkling


Preheat the oven to 375˚F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out to a large rectangle or square. It should be big enough so the pastry is about ¼-inch thick. Or unroll it, if it's pre-rolled.

Mix together the currants, brown sugar and butter. Spread over one half of the pastry.

Or mix the butter and sugar. Spread that over the pastry and sprinkle with currants. It doesn't much matter.

Roll the pastry gently until the currants start poking out. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Fold the pastry over to cover the filling.

Roll gently with the rolling pin almost until the currants poke through the surface.

Cut into squares or rectangles — any size you like — with a sharp knife.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Brush with egg.

Brush the cakes with egg and cut a few shallow slits on the top of each. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Cut a few slits in the top of each with a sharp knife. Be careful not to go all the way through.

Sprinkle with regular or coarse sugar.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden.

Serving: Makes about one dozen eccles cakes, depending on their size.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.