Saturday, December 17, 2011

Shortbread, Any Way You Like It

You may find yourself wanting to bake some cookies for Christmas.  Maybe you're not quite up to the big Christmas cookie bake-a-thon.  Maybe you want to bake just one cookie that you can either eat plain or douse in chocolate.  Maybe you want nuts, and maybe you are not feeling too nutty. This is a very adaptable recipe.  I wouldn't call this a kid kind of cookie recipe.  It's more sophisticated.  It's not a dunk in your milk cookie, its more like a nice cookie to have with a cup of tea or a cappuccino.

My mother used to bake shortbread stars for Christmas.  It was her cookie.  As children, my brother and I had no interest.   I guess that's why her shortbread stars were always the last remaining Christmas cookie in the tin.  Oh, did I mention that shortbread cookies keep well, sealed tight in a tin?  Now I get the appeal.  I've made several shortbread cookies over the years and find Ina Garten, a woman with no fear of butter, has a great shortbread recipe.  My mother always made her shortbread using powdered sugar rather than granulated sugar.  Combining my mom's recipe with Ina's produced a crisp, buttery, delicious cookie.  Dipped in bittersweet chocolate, they become something special.  To dip or not to dip....I split the batch and make them both ways.  Whip up a batch and see what a great, versatile cookie this can be .  By the way, it's OK if you want to add this recipe to your bake-a-thon as well.
I really prefer to make these cookies with pecans.  You can leave the pecans out if you're not feeling nutty and bake a straight-forward shortbread cookie. Try adding some orange zest to the dough and dip the baked cookies in chocolate for a delicious variation. Use your imagination and get creative.  Don't roll your dough out too thin, it browns too quickly and won't have the wonderful, almost sandy texture.
My Favorite Shortbread
A mash-up, adapted from:
Ina Garten, Pecan Shortbread  The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Dorothy Lieske Shortbread Cookies, Mom and Baker Extraordinaire (aka my mom)

Makes 3 dozen,  2 inch cookies

  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter, softened and room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  1. Toast the chopped pecans in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant and slightly golden.  Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
  3. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and 2 sugars.  Add the vanilla.
  4. On low speed, add in the flour and nuts and mix until the dough comes together.  Do not over-mix.
  5. Dump the mixture out onto a lightly floured board and shape into 2 discs.  (dough will be crumbly)  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  7. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll chilled dough out onto lightly floured board. Dough should be rolled out to 1/3 inch thickness.  Cut desired shape and place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silpat.  
  8. Bake in 325 degree oven for 25 minutes until lightly golden.
  9. Remove from pan and cool on rack.
  10. When cookies are cool, gently melt chocolate over double boiler.
  11. Dip cookies in chocolate.  Allow excess to drip off.
  12. Place on rack or wax paper to cool and harden.
  13. Store cooled cookies in a tin for up to a week.

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