Saturday, December 28, 2013

Classic Shortbread: Not coming up short

It seems remiss to be writing about a holiday cookie recipe after Christmas. A bit like posting a gift guide three days before the holiday itself -- utterly useless for 90% of the population.  Particularly for those perfectly coiffed, check list-abiding folks who have their packages purchased, wrapped and under the tree by December 1st, and their holiday cookie recipes catalogued on Pinterest before fall has even made a dent in my consciousness.

I'm terrible at that sort of thing.

Organization amid structure. Or really, organization without a bit of chaos - the piles of magazines and meeting notes that threaten to teeter off my desk whenever I move my mouse, the bags of Brussels sprouts and pink lady apples that overwhelm my at-capacity produce drawers, and the storage closet that stores far more than it should.

While every now and again I'll go on a crazy rampage and attempt to West Elm-ify my life with calendars and labelled Tupperware, it only lasts for a moment. Approximately the length of time it takes for me to chip my nails after a manicure or dribble red wine on a newly laundered dress. And just like that I'll be back to me - the girl who posts about holiday cookies three days after Christmas while the whole world moves on to the New Year's resolution kale salad or heart-shaped everything. 

But there's something about these particular cookies that demands to be shared in a more meaningful manner than what I managed to communicate via a haphazard hashtagged Instagram photo on Christmas Eve. Because I never would have picked the recipe out as the stunner that would most captivate my sweet tooth this holiday season. My eyes would have soared past it, falling for chocolate-pistachio sables or chewy molasses cookies or something with a bit more pizazz and star power than… shortbread.

Even the name seems to indicate it's lacking in something - coming up short or edging far too closely to an item that does not instantly evoke a sugar high. Yet when a friend pulled the hot pan from the oven during a holiday cookie baking party inspired by that issue of Bon Appétit - you know, the one with the glossy, painted sugar cookies on the cover all chic and West Elm-like - I was done.

It's really meant to be a template for something else. The blank canvas where rosemary and caraway seeds reside (as it originally appears in Bon Appétit), where lavender becomes something other than the scent du jour for fancy hand soap, where layers of chocolate and caramel and nuts find a foundation. In my estimation, however, it's best just as it is - cut into fat fingers and served plain with a liberal top coat of coarse sugar.

Not particularly glamorous nor worthy of a magazine cover, but everything a holiday cookie should be - a resolve-killer, even three days after the holiday itself. 

Classic Shortbread
Lightly adapted from the December 2013 issue of Bon Appétit

Notes: Aside from nixing the rosemary and caraway seeds, which I'm sure are perfectly lovely contributions when a savory shortbread is in demand, I followed this recipe rather closely. My only "tweaks" so to speak were borrowed from the friend (a former pastry chef) who introduced the shortbread to me during that holiday cookie party. I baked the batter in a 13x9'' baking dish rather than two 8''-diameter cake pans, and cut it into strips while still warm from the oven to avoid any unfortunate crumbling after it had cooled completely. My friend thinks these get better on the 2nd or 3rd day, and I'm torn -- there's something to be said for a warm cookie, peeled straight from the pan while the sugar is still slightly molten and caramelized, but these are equally (and perhaps more) compelling at room temperature as a companion to a stern cup of tea.


2 sticks (cold) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2'' pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg, beaten
Turbinado sugar (or another coarse sugar), to finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a 13x9'' glass baking dish (probably not entirely necessary given the amount of butter in the recipe itself, but something I feel inclined to do regardless).

Place the flour in a medium bowl and gently stir with a whisk to lighten the texture so it's easier to incorporate into the batter.

In a separate large bowl with fairly high sides, combine the butter, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, and salt. Use an electric mixer on medium-high speed to beat until the batter is very light and fluffy (around 7-10 minutes). I imagine it would be equally fine to use a stand mixer for this step, just as long as air is beaten into the butter in some capacity, which Bon Appétit notes makes for tender shortbread. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, half at a time. Mix until just combined - the dough will not come together perfectly and it shouldn't.

Gently press the batter into the prepared pan, taking care to ensure it is spread into an even layer. Brush with the whipped egg, then aggressively sprinkle with turbinado sugar or whatever coarse sugar you are using. Bake 25 minutes or so or until the edges start to brown and the center feels to the touch.

Cool on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes, then slice into wedges or bars. Enjoy warm or store in an airtight container to steal bites from all week.


Kat said...

I made the rosemary and caraway version in Bon Appetit and they were truly fabulous. I love shortbread and also think the purist version is good more times than not. The sables were pretty darn fabulous too...and easy! I know someone who bought luster dust to paint the sugar cookies and just thought, 'Hell no!' to that!

Banana Wonder said...

Hey TALF, you are not alone in your post Christmas cookie posting. I might be joining you there soon. Thanks for the hot tip about slicing these babies when warm. I have never made shortbread but hoping to in 2014. Sad we couldn't see each other (stooopid car!) but maybe this is a sign you need to come to Portland? For the record, my house is not west-elmy.

Diana said...

Kat - Nice to know about the sables... anything with chocolate and pistachios is usually a-okay with me! Will have to bookmark those for next year, or, well, tomorrow. ;)

Anna - DO IT! Bummer we didn't get to see each other, but, yes, I'll keep Portland on my short list of places to visit in 2014! Would be great to check out PDX eats with you!