Shortbread and balls are the culinary keywords of the season, no?
It’s the morning after (OK, afternoon after) our annual Polyester & Cheese Christmas party, wherein friends wear polyester and bring something cheesy, and our dining room table is so weighed down with cheese by the end of the night (as are we) that the next morning all you can do is come downstairs in your PJs, make some coffee and keep going. Polyester & Cheese is the official kick-off to the season of nibbling party food leftovers for breakfast, lunch and dinner (if you haven’t had warmed mince tarts for breakfast yet, I highly recommend it) straight through until Boxing Day.
Last weekend my friend Elizabeth had their family Christmas party, a retro extravaganza not unlike ours, with cheese balls and pink peppermint pie and vintage Pyrex. She served these warm balls of cheddar shortbread, wrapped around an olive and baked, and Mike ate at least six. (I did too.)
I texted her the next day for the recipe. She texted back: Mix 1/2 cup melted butter, 1 1/4 cups flour, 2 cups grated cheddar, wrap around an olive, chill for an hour then bake for 20 minutes.
So there you go. I love recipes like this.
The dough can be made in approximately three minutes, and the wrapped olives can chill for an hour or five, and be at the ready for that time when you expect guests to arrive at the door, at which point you can slide them into the oven to bake and have something warm and wonderful smelling (who needs potpourri or smelly candles you can’t eat?) and easy to eat that everyone seems to love, and that tastes just as good once they cool down. (Note: the olives stay hot for longer than their shortbread jackets do; and make sure you don’t buy olives with pits – emergency dental work can put a damper on any Christmas party.)
Cheddar-Olive Shortbread Balls
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups grated aged cheddar
a pinch of salt and pepper
about 1 1/2 dozen pitted olives
In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, flour, cheddar and salt and pepper. Wrap some dough around each olive (patting them dry with paper towels seems to help the dough not slide off – just cup it in your hand and squeeze it together as if you were making a little snowball) and refrigerate for an hour or so.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F and bake for 20 minutes, or until pale golden on the bottom. Cool before serving – the olives inside can get hot!
Makes about 1 1/2 dozen olive balls.