As the name suggests, these have a lovely, zingy cranberry-orange-spice flavor and aroma. You can present them without the buttercream filling and they will be plenty appealing, but if you want to win raves, serve them made into cookie sandwiches. The buttercream is simple to prepare; the little sandwiches go together fairly quickly; and they will disappear off the plate almost instantly! Both the slice-and-bake dough and the frosting can be prepared in advance, so they are extremely convenient for holiday entertaining.
Note that this recipe calls for defrosted orange juice concentrate, not regular-strength orange juice, which won't impart enough full-bodied orange flavor. You'll also need a food processor to make the dough and, if you have them, a few tubes from spent rolls of paper towels. And if you plan to make these into cookie sandwiches, you may want to roll the dough a bit thinner.
Make Ahead: The dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. The cookies (and cookie sandwiches) can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 1 1/2 months.
Servings: 60 Plain or Frosted Cookies OR 30 Cookie Sandwiches
For the Cookies
3/4 cup picked-over fresh (or defrosted) cranberries, washed and patted dry
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (colored part of the skin only)
Scant 1 teaspoon ground cardamom (may substitute 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened yet still cool, cut into chunks
2 1/3 cups flour, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons defrosted orange juice concentrate
Coarse crystal sugar, turbinado sugar or granulated sugar, or about 1/4 cup finely
chopped pistachio nuts or almonds for garnish (optional)
For the Optional Buttercream (To make cookie sandwiches)
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons defrosted orange juice concentrate, plus more as needed
1/8 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (no pith)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft but not melted
For the cookies:
Combine the cranberries and 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar in a food processor. Pulse until the cranberries are chopped fairly fine.
Turn out the berry-sugar mixture into a large bowl. Combine the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the orange zest, cardamom, baking powder and salt in the processor. Process for 1 to 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the zest is very fine. Add the confectioners' sugar, butter pieces and 1 1/3 cups of the flour. Pulse until the butter is cut in and reduced to fine bits; the mixture should not yet be coming together in a mass. Drizzle the orange juice concentrate over the mixture. Pulse just until the juice concentrate is incorporated and the mixture just starts to come together, but not completely.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the sugared, chopped cranberries; stir until well blended. Sprinkle over the remaining 1 cup of flour. Stir lightly, lifting the mixture from the bottom. Then use your hands to gradually knead in the remaining flour until all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated and the berries are evenly distributed. If the dough seems too wet to shape, work in up to 4 more tablespoons of flour.
Divide the dough in half. Working on sheets of wax paper, shape each dough portion into a 10 1/2-inch log. Smooth and stretch out the middle of the logs so they are evenly thick and about 11 inches long. Roll up each log in the paper, twisting the paper ends to keep it closed. (For logs that hold their round shape during chilling, slide each log into a discarded paper towel tube that has been slit lengthwise. Close the tubes with rubber bands or tape; date and label them. Place in resealable plastic food storage bags.) Refrigerate the logs for at least 2 hours, or until very firm but not so hard that they are difficult to cut.
Alternately, refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month. Let refrigerated dough warm up until just barely soft enough to slice before baking (about 10 minutes); transfer frozen dough to the refrigerator to defrost before using.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line several large baking sheets with parchment paper or coat with nonstick cooking oil spray.
Use a sharp knife to cut one of the logs crosswise into 30 slices of equal size; for evenly shaped slices, rotate the log a quarter-turn after each cut. Space them about 2 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheets. If desired, sprinkle the cookie tops with a little sugar or with pistachio nuts, gently patting them into surface.
Bake (middle rack) one sheet at a time for 12 to 16 minutes or until almost firm when pressed in the center top and slightly browned at the edges. Transfer the sheet to a cooling rack; let stand until cooled to warm, then use a spatula to transfer the cookies to then wire rack to cool completely. Repeat to bake all of the dough (the second log).
For the optional buttercream frosting/cookie sandwiches: Vigorously stir together the confectioners' sugar, orange juice concentrate, orange zest and butter to form a blended, smooth buttercream. If it is too stiff to spread, gradually thin the mixture with more orange juice concentrate. Frost the top of each cookie; or invert half of the cookies and spread about 1 teaspoon of the buttercream on each one. Top with a plain cookie (top side up) to form a cookie sandwich, gently pressing until the buttercream appears almost at the edges.