An occasional series in which staff members share a recipe we turn to time and time again:

The 18-year-old leaves our happy family unit soon to expand his horizons in a college not too far away. We've purchased the extra-long twin sheet sets and we've secretly selected a color to repaint his room by October. (Really, dear, it'll still be your room. ) Most importantly, I already know what I'll make for his first official care package, that gesture of little things sent to satisfy a freshman's fleeting cravings of home: gingered shortbread, his favorite type of cookie since age 9.

The recipe's from a modest paperback by food writer and cookbook author Linda Merinoff called "Gingerbread: 99 Delicious Recipes From Sweet to Savory" and is simply called Shortbread, which I suppose is apt for a dough made glorious by a small amount of ground spice. It makes a cookie that is not too sweet and does not taste as rich as regular shortbread. Since it calls for an egg, it's not a true shortbread. Since it has no molasses, it doesn't come close to a gingerbread snap.

I've made these cookies so often that I can remember the ingredient amounts without looking at the book -- for good report cards, bake sales, as companions to a dessert wine, at any time of the year. They survive being a little underbaked (a bit more crumble), overbaked (approaching a biscotti crunch) and an application of royal icing at holiday time.


Makes 3 dozen*

This recipe makes a non-crumby dough that's pale enough to see the flecks of cinnamon, and it re-rolls easily, holding the shape of even the most faceted cookie cutter. The aroma while these cookies are baking could sell a house with no closet space. I'd like to be able to tell you that this shortbread lasts a while in an airtight container. But at our house, it never, ever lasts. Adapted from "Gingerbread: 99 Delicious Recipes From Sweet to Savory," by Linda Merinoff (Simon & Schuster, 1989):

2 to 21/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface

1/4 cup rice flour (may substitute cornstarch)

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup superfine sugar

1 large egg

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix together both flours and set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the brown and superfine sugars, egg, milk, ginger and cinnamon and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the flour mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times, just until smooth. (Dough should not be sticky; if it is, keep adding a bit more regular flour.) Pat out or use a rolling pin to make the dough 1/4-inch thick. At this point, you can use cookie cutters or a knife to cut the dough into shapes or rectangles 3 to 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. If you use cutters, be sure to re-dip the sharp edges in flour before each use, to ensure easy release.

Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to a nonstick baking sheet; they do not spread while baking so you can place them pretty close together. Bake for 30 minutes or just until the edges of each cookie are pale brown. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack. Cool completely.

*NOTE: A thinner roll of dough will yield more cookies; the thinner cookies will take less time to bake.

Per serving: 88 calories, 1 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 3 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber