This article was published in The Wine Advisor FoodLetter on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/food/tsfl20071220.php.
Simple gifts - shortbread
Now that I've sent out more than 300 editions of the 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter since we started this publication back in 2002, you may have noticed that only a few of them have featured desserts. Okay, one of them, but who's counting?
Frankly, I love to cook, and I love to eat, too; but I don't have all that much of a sweet tooth. It's just as well, because I'd surely be a blimp if I enjoyed making dessert dishes as much as I do savory fare.
Still, it's Christmas time, and I wouldn't say no to a chocolate or two, or better yet, a few homemade cookies. Today, then, I'm turning the chef's toque over to my wife, Mary W. Johnson, who normally prefers to eat what I cook but takes charge of the kitchen herself when dessert's the thing.
All the best of the holiday season and the new year to you all. Here's Mary with a recipe for a simple, classic cookie that's good at any time of year: Shortbread, so called not because it's short in stature but because it's long on shortening. Preferably pure creamery butter.
Shortbread cookies were often called "Scottish" shortbread, back when we were growing up. Today some folks turn this simple recipe into drop cookies, or dip them in chocolate or flavor them with coffee and adorn them with all sorts of other things. Some recipes call for brown sugar, but I think that's a deviation and not a good one.
You don't need any of this fancy stuff, though, not even vanilla extract, to make the simple and classic recipe. It's a small, unadorned bar cookie that involves just a few ingredients in proper proportions: one part sugar, two parts butter, four parts flour and a little bit of salt. We always used used confectioner's sugar, which makes a smoother dough and more delicate finished product.
You can find shortbread packaged in groceries - Walkers shortbread is a well-known quality brand from Scotland. It's easy to make your own, though, and it doesn't get any fresher than that. Here's how I made a small batch last weekend. Please use the best quality butter available and don't substitute margarine. These simple, delicate cookies shine with the best quality ingredients.
(Makes about two dozen small cookies)
1/2 cup (120g) confectioner's sugar
1. Sift the sugar, flour and salt together.
2. Allow the butter to come to room temperature to soften. Then put the butter in a bowl and "cream" it by beating it with a hand mixer for a minute or two until it's pale and, well, creamy. Continue mixing as you gradually add the sifted sugar, salt and flour mixture. This will make a stiff dough.
3. Line a 9-by-9-inch or similar-size pan with parchment paper. Press the dough into the pan with your fingers. There's no real need to roll it out, but try to ensure that it's fairly even in thickness and goes into all corners of the pan.
4. Use a fork to prick the dough all the way through, about every half inch, repeating in rows so the entire surface is pocked with little holes.
5. Bake at 325F (160C) until the dough starts to brown. Keep an eye on it, as this may take as little as 20 minutes to 30 minutes or so.
6. Remove the cookies from the oven and remove them from the pan by lifting them out on the parchment paper, transferring the cookie square to a cutting board.
7. While they're still warm, cut into small "finger size" rectangles, pushing apart each row as you cut to allow a little cooling air space around each cookie, Move the cut cookies on the parchment paper onto a wire or wooden rack to cool. They'll keep best in a tightly sealed tin container, but they're not likely to last long, at least not around our house.
Simplest, as I said, is often best. If you want something just a little more adventurous in a bar cookie, though, check out this Latino beauty from our FoodLovers Discussion Group:
A Quiet Little Mexican Bar (Cookie)
WINE MATCH: Wine with cookies? I think these go best with hot coffee or tea or, if you indulge, a tall glass of cold milk. As a wine-matching challenge, though, I think the simple delicacy of shortbread wouldn't be badly served by a Tawny Port, sweeter-style Sherry or a Tokaji.
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