December is cranberry season because fresh cranberries are harvested in the fall from September-November. What else is in season in the fall to winter? Citrus. So the pairing of orange and cranberry is peak perfect flavor. These cranberry orange sugar cookies are no different.
Sugar cookies may evoke slightly different images in someone’s mind when mentioned. For some, it is the type of dough that is rolled out and used with cookie cutters and topped with sprinkles or frosting. Those are indeed sugar cookies. I’ve always thought of them of Christmas Sugar Cookies though. You definitely can make them any time of year but honestly it’s the only time I make that style of cookie. Some people think of round simple drop style cookies. Which are also sugar cookies! These are more like the latter, however the recipe isn’t all that different from my Christmas version.
Why These Cranberry Orange Sugar Cookies Are Special
These cookies use melted butter versus traditional softened butter. When you melt butter and use it in dough, if the cookie dough isn’t chilled the cookies will turn out thin and spread a lot. But, if the dough is chilled prior to baking, first the butter and sugar combine very easily. No creaming them, we aren’t adding a lot of air into the dough. Then when the dough is chilled, the butter solidifies again, and when baked the cookies are chewier, crisp edges and slightly more dense with an almost fudge like center.
The other key in these cookies is the orange zest. Adding orange zest to a cookie is not ground breaking. It is delicious though. But taking that one step further and rubbing the zest into the sugar helps release the oils within the peel into the sugar. Infusing it this way makes an orange sugar. You can do this with any fruit you zest and sugar. This helps the flavor not bake off, almost concentrating it. Your hands will also smell lovely afterwards. We use this orange sugar in both the dough and the coating for a bright and sweet orange flavor to counteract the tartness of the cranberry.
Orange Cranberry Sugar Cookies Key Ingredients
- Orange – I didn’t want this recipe to be a cranberry cookie with a little orange extract. While there is nothing wrong with extract, there is nothing like fresh citrus zest. You want 2 medium-large oranges (whichever variety you can find/prefer). We use fresh zest rubbed into the sugar to release the oils in the cookie dough and then again in coating the cookies.
- Dried Cranberry – You could potentially use fresh cranberry but I have not tried it with them, so the amounts could be different and the texture might change.
- Granulated sugar – To keep in vein with classic sugar cookies, this recipe is mostly granulated sugar (with a hint of brown sugar) and then the cookies are a rolled in a granulated sugar and orange zest prebaking.
- 169 g Unsalted butter 12 tbsp, room temperature
- 200 g Granulated sugar 1 cup
- 50 g Dark brown sugar ¼ cup
- 2 med/lg Oranges
- 1 large Egg + 1 yolk room temperature
- 1 tsp Vanilla
- 80 g Dried cranberries ½ cup
- 270 G AP Flour 2¼ cup
- ½ tsp Baking soda
- ¼ tsp Baking powder
- ¾ tsp Sea salt
- 68 g Granulated sugar, for rolling ⅓ cup
- In a small bowl or measuring cup, add dried cranberries and fill with just enough hot water to cover the berries. Allow to soak for about 15 minutes. This step helps hydrate the cranberries so they do not dry out the cookie dough.
- Add your flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, whisk to combine. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set both aside.
- In another small bowl slice your butter into chunks and microwave for about 90 seconds or until butter has melted. Remove from microwave and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
- In a small bowl, add your 1 cup of granulated sugar and zest one of your oranges into the sugar. Zest lightly, avoiding getting the white pith (this is the bitter part).
- Using your fingers, rub the orange zest into the sugar. The sugar should take on a sandy texture and become a light orange color. This will infuse the oils into the sugar granules, allowing the orange flavor to remain much stronger.
- Add your orange sugar, brown sugar, and cooled melted butter into a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer with paddle attached.
- Mix your butter and sugars together until combined, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add egg plus additional yolk, and vanilla into your sugars and beat until homogenous.
- Drain your cranberries and lightly dry them off on a tea towel or paper towels.
- Add your dry ingredients to your wet and stir together with a rubber spatula until no dry flour remains.
- Stir in your cranberries, mixing until evenly incorporated.
- Scoop your cookie dough using a 2 tbsp scoop onto your prepared baking sheet. Cover your baking sheet after all dough has been scooped (should be about 24 cookies using this size scoop) and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- When your cookies have chilled for almost an hour, add ⅓ cup granulated sugar into a small bowl and zest half of your second orange into the sugar. Rub the zest into the sugar like previously.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F
- Remove your cookie dough from the refrigerator, and roll each cookie in the orange sugar.
- Bake cookies with several inches space around each for 12 minutes on the center rack of your oven.
- Remove cookies from baking sheet and to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container for 3-5 days. Enjoy!