Tag Archives: cookies

Butter, butter, butter

Well, it sounds funny when you say it three times, but butter is truly something I cannot be without. When I’m reading a recipe I judge it based on the ratio of butter to the other components. What?! Only a quarter-cup in a whole batch of cookies? Nonsense. Next!

Butter isn’t simply there for flavor, which is does do marvelously. It is a textural god-send, turning flour into flaky pastry and a moist scallop into a crisp-edged bite of the salty sea. Butter has been a staple of the human diet as long as milk production itself has been around. This most valued food was initially made by mistake, as anyone who has over-whipped heavy cream has discovered. The clumps of fat form and the liquid (buttermilk) separates out. A more simple treat has never delighted me more.

I’d never made shortbread before, but I feel like it is such a great example of what you can do with great ratios of really lovely ingredients. A layered, dense sweet/salty cookie that has a grainy, fine texture. Use the best butter you can find for these, I think the reward is obvious when you take the first bite. By the way, I felt like these got better and better over time…Like a few days, a week, however long you can keep them around without sneaking one every time you pass the kitchen.

Scotch Shortbread

(adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter, Clarkson-Potter 2003)

  • 1  3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour (easy find in the bulk section or gluten-free area)
  • 1/4 generous teaspoon salt (like heaping, I guess)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar, plus more for dusting

Preheat your oven to 300°F, and position the shelf in the center of the oven. Line a 9-inch square (or similar, I think mine was 9 x 11) with foil, pressing it into the corners and shaping it smoothly across the bottom and sides of the pan. Sift the flour, rice flour and salt together three times and set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix the butter on a medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar gradually, taking about 1 minute, and then allow to mix for about 1 minute more. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Remove the bowl from the machine and transfer the butter mixture into a large, wide bowl. Using a wooden spoon (and your muscles!) cut half of the dry ingredients into the butter until it’s almost incorporated. Work in the remaining dry by adding it in five or six small additions. This is where you must move quickly and deliberately, as you want to keep the butter relatively cool. The “dough” will look like a pile of lumpy flour that could never be a cookie, but gather it and knead it gently to smear the bits of butter.

Scoop your dough/flour ball into the foil-lined pan and use your spoon to distribute it evenly. Then, using a flat-bottomed glass press the dough evenly into the pan, being careful to get into the corners. Clean the edges of the pan with either a small spatula or a dough scraper.

Bake the shortbread for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the top feels set. It will be very pale. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Using a very sharp knife, carefully cut through the dough 1 1/2 inch intervals, making five (ish) strips, and then quarter-turn your pan and do the same going the other way, making 25 small squares. They stay in the pan. Sprinkle lightly with superfine sugar, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until lightly brown.

Remove from the pan, and using the foil as an aid, take out the individual squares and place them on a cookie sheet and return them to the oven for 10 minutes to dry and crisp. Remove and let cool on the pan for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  And your mouth. Trust me on the previous advice to let them sit a few days in a plastic bag. They really do get better with age. 🙂

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A quick bit…

The last post’s gingerbread recipe was, quite possibly, the yummiest cookie I have ever baked. Thankfully, we had many people in and out of the house that week, so there were many mouths amongst which to share it. (As opposed to it all ending up in my belly, which is probable without Ryan around to take some of the eating pressure off. Aah, yes. The key to a successful relationship may be having someone who will, without question or hesitation, always be there to enjoy your goodies, successes or failures.) But, yeah, success this time and we loved every bite.  But in my little baking-perfectionist’s heart, I had originally had this very specific visual in mind: The embossed, wainscoting-like tiles that had beckoned me in the first place.

These molds that are traditionally used for such a recipe are called springerle. They are small, hand-carved wood reliefs used to press into the dough and leave a beautiful, incredibly detailed image. Images run the gamut from seasonal depictions like acorns and harvest scenes to kings and their court, to one of my favorites, a woman over a stove minding many pots. I like the historical element to these. The idea that someone would have a carving of their farm made, showing the rows and the house and the huge oak tree in the corner. They would (in my idealized dream world) pass it down to a child upon their wedding and it would come to symbolize that family’s name. they were used as gifts and bartering and have come to be highly prized among bakeware collectors. I found the original rolling pin style springerle that I was looking for (this one you would emboss your dough in strips and then cut individual tiles from those strips). It is a very pretty mold, but I realized that wasn’t the idea with these. They were to reflect something you love, what stirs your bowl and your heart.  I found one that was a marriage symbol (calm down, moms), a winding, infinity-like design studded with pomegranates and wheat. But, alas, I know no one to carve it for me, so I’ll have to order it online, which feels so anti-antiquated. But, it is 2009 and not 1709. So, instead, I made my gingerbread that day with out a mold, just with my hands. And then I ordered the springerle mold. 🙂

House On The Hill has beautiful ones…

Faithful Family - Click Image to Close

A new family springerle for my friend Wendy who had her lovely son Felix with her love Joe on this last Thursday. Congratulations!

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Soft Glazed Gingerbread

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When the woes of the world come knocking on my door (a car that won’t start, tired baking shoulders, planning holiday madness, flat bike tires), I don’t take that business lying down! No way! I get out there and  I….well, I bake some gingerbread.  I was in the process of beginning my weekend (mid-week, that is) when I hit a few hiccups, one being that my car is becoming a bit prissy about deciding when it wants to be driven. To coffee with a friend? Yes, sure. Home from said coffee date? Apparently not. I cancelled my plans to drive to the city for a day of treats and photos. I needed to conjure my own inspiration. I rode around on my bike all day, smelling everyone’s fireplaces and feeling the faded sunshine on my face. The changing light…I was reminded of New Year’s Day, the most recent one, the morning after a little rambunctious revelry. We all woke up, ate some amazing breakfast courtesy of our hosts, rolled up our sleeping bags and bad outfits and headed over to the sunny side of the city. The Soft Glazed Gingerbread from Tartine in San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cookies to behold and has the good fortune of being equally delicious. Brains and beauty, I was hooked. I ate the whole, gorgeous little slab. And then I ate a croissant too. Hey! It was New  Year’s Day!

Soft Glazed Gingerbread 

(from Tartine, Chronicle Books, 2006)

Ingredients
Dough: 
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder 
4 teaspoons ground ginger 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves 
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 1/4 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground 
1 cup (2 sticks/8 oz./226g) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 
1 large egg 
1/2 cup blackstrap or other dark molasses 
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

 Glaze: 
1 cup confectioners’ sugar 
2 tablespoon water

Instructions:
To Make the Dough: 
Stir together the flour, cocoa powder, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Set aside. Using a stand mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and mix on medium speed until the mixture is completely smooth and soft. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg and mix well. Add the molasses and corn syrup and beat until incorporated. Stop the mixer again and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until a dough forms that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and all the ingredients are well incorporated. Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten it on a large piece of plastic wrap into a rectangle about 1 inch thick, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  (I put mine in the freezer for about three hours, and that seemed like enough.)Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick liner. 

 

Unwrap the dough and place on a floured work surface. 

IMG_0963Although the Tartine cookies are made using a springerle patterned rolling pin, I do not have such a beautiful artifact. I am asking for one for Christmas. So, for this cookie today, I used every other interesting texture-maker in my kitchen. You do not need to make any texture, but the idea is that the glaze settles into the low spots on the cookie’s surface and makes a pretty relief image. My next post will be all about these molds and pins, as I have found myself quite obsessed. I rolled mine out about 1/4 inch thick, but next time I would do it thicker, perhaps 3/4 inch.

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I used a tart pan to make a fluted slab after rolling, and then dragged a pastry comb through to make lines.

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After slicing the slab with a very sharp knife, I placed them about an inch apart on the parchment-lines sheet pans.

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I baked this one whole, and sliced it after baking

Bake the cookies until lightly golden along the sides but still soft to the touch in the centers, 7 to 15 minutes. The timing will depend on the size of the individual cookies, or if you have made a single large patterned piece that will be cut after baking. 

While the cookies are baking, prepare the glaze. 

To Make the Glaze: 
In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and water until smooth. 

When the cookies are ready, remove from the oven and let cool on the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then, while the cookies are still warm, using even strokes, brush a light coat of glaze on the top of each cookie, evenly covering it. Let the cookies cool completely. When the glaze dries, it should leave a shiny, opaque finish. If you have used a patterned pin to make a single large plaque, cut into the desired sizes with a small, very sharp knife. 

The cookies will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for about 2 weeks. They do not freeze well, however, as the glaze becomes watery when they are thawed. 

Makes 12 to 20 cookies, depending on size of cutters. 

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the ginger-brick road

 Next post: Springerle, and why you should care. 

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First the swine flu, and then this!?

After a few days of what I consider my twice-yearly bout with sickness, I (literally) dragged myself to the computer on Monday morning in a stupor and couldn’t believe what I saw….Gourmet, the monthly food magazine, is closing it doors after 68 years being published, cooked from, devoured and revered by home cooks and food lovers alike. Gorgeous photography, ambitious recipes and great profiles on restaurants and chefs that were on the horizon…I’m glad the bay area got some of the focus on the next to last issue. I made the Pecan Brown Butter cookies just yesterday…..sniff*..I think it will be really fun to see what the other food publications do with the room made by Gourmet’s absence. They have a great opportunity to bring new readership and maybe even snag a few great writers or photographers from the disbanding magazine. Alas, Ruth Reichl will certainly continue to be the altar at which many foodies pray, so I am excited to see what her next moves are. Back to Berkeley, Ruth? Just kidding. 

http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/ruth-reichl-to-promote-gourmet-cookbook-before-writing-a-book-of-her-own/

 

I hopefully will be over my flu-ish thing in a day or two and hope to jump back on and blow you all away with a delectable story. Take care. Wash your hands. 🙂

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