Halloween Shortbread Swirl Cookies

I take on the challenge to make a Halloween-themed cookie without sugar. Surprise, surprise I’m very pleased with the results.

I’m bolstered by the success of my Ghoulishly Green Punch made with juices, soda water, and Splenda. My friend, the devious devil who first posed the challenge of using Splenda, is reveling in making me eat my words. But I know the real test is baking with this sugar free alternative.

As I mention before, I’m a real stickler for research whether it be for eating, traveling, or in this case, baking. As I read on the package of Splenda, I can substitute it cup for cup for sugar and that’s encouraging, anxious as I am about baking with anything that’s not sugar. There’s plenty of information about baking with Splenda but the most helpful –not to mention eye-opening – tips for me are that Splenda should be mixed with the dry ingredients and not creamed with the butter (as sugar usually is). In addition, Splenda inhibits browning so baked goods won’t brown as much and baking times tend to be shorter too, by as much as five to ten minutes.

I tweak my train of thought and turn it to cookies – I want to give it a Halloween twist. Then I have it: I’ll make shortbread, my favorite cookie in the world. I think it might work because the success of this type of cookie is more dependent on the quality of butter than it is on the sugar.

Having made shortbread only in wedges, squares, and fingers, I mull over how to transform my shortbread recipe for Halloween. I’m staring at the green food coloring that I overdosed my Ghoulishly Green Punch with and then, figuring that I’m on a roll, I decide to color my shortbread too. Hey, hey go all the way, I say! Wanting my cookies to be a little more discreet in hue however, I buy orange and yellow food color in gel paste. It’s more viscous and allows for more control, compared to the liquid coloring. Plus, I’ve always liked making swirled/marbled cookies, their wow factor is inversely proportionate to the minimal amount of effort involved.

As the photos here show, this is a looker of a cookie and very appropriate for Halloween. They’re only slightly sweet and I’m pleased with how Splenda works very well in this recipe. It even imbues the cookies with a pleasantly sweet aftertaste, and the texture of the cookie is ideal, super crumbly and short, the way good shortbread is supposed to be.

What is definitely the greatest seal of approval for these Halloween cookies of mine is that my daughter, Boo, (yes, she can really live up to her name during Halloween) absolutely loves them. I’m floored when she eats two in one sitting. “Mom, I love these! Don’t change the recipe!” She tells me. Even my friend, the one who initially posed the challenge to bake without sugar, likes these cookies too.

I’m ecstatic that my foray into sugar free baking with Splenda is a success; I’m encouraged to discover and bake some more with it. Now go make these cookies and see for yourself. Perhaps even you won’t miss the sugar.

Halloween Shortbread Swirl Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen cookies, depending on the size.

2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Splenda® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
1 cup butter, salted or unsalted
¼ teaspoon salt, if using unsalted butter
Orange food coloring
Yellow food coloring

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Add all ingredients except the food colorings into the bowl of a stand mixer. Include the salt if you’re using unsalted butter. Beat ingredients on low speed first to gently incorporate ingredients gradually increasing to medium speed. When the mixture starts to ball up and resemble coarse crumbs, remove it from the bowl and onto a non-stick mat or parchment paper. Gently knead the mixture until smooth but don’t be overly aggressive with it or your shortbread will be tough.

Divide the dough into thirds. To one dough add a few drops of the orange food coloring and to the other dough, add a few drops of the yellow food coloring. Knead both doughs separately until they’re evenly colored and there are no streaks. It’s a good idea to wash your hands before handling the second dough.

Form each dough into a ball or roughly-formed disc and wrap individually in sheets of parchment or wax paper and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes, or until it’s slightly cool to the touch. This resting time will allow the dough to be easier to handle.

Using a rolling pin, roll out each dough between sheets of wax or parchment paper into a rectangle about half an inch thick. Stack the flattened doughs on top of each other in this order: white, orange, yellow. With a sharp knife, slice a tri-colored strip and roll it gently into a ball. Make sure the sliced strips are of approximately the same size so that your cookies will bake up evenly. I used a scale to measure the dough: 28 grams for each cookie. Place each ball of swirled dough onto the prepared pan and press it gently into a disc. Do the same for all balls of dough. You can also make candy corn cookie lollipops as seen in the cover photo above. Just slice triangles out of the tri-colored dough and stick a lollipop or wooden stick into the dough before baking.

Bake the formed cookies in the center of the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes. These cookies will not color or brown as they bake. A longer cooking time will ensure a crisper, more short (crumbly) cookie.

When cookies are baked, let cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes and then transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Store cookies in an air-tight container for up to 5 days. Leftover cookies can also be blitzed in a food processor to use as a crust for pies.

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