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When we were in the exhausting throes of the Christmas season at La Cuisine, Charlene, who is one of the co-conspirator cooks for Kitchen Detail, would bring in her jewel-like boxes of shortbread cookies for us, all elegantly festooned with lovely ribbons. The cookies were always neatly packed in cellophane bags to insure freshness and (no more than three to bag) lack of breakage, then swathed in beautiful tissue and paper confetti, always tied with a simple, perfect bow. Larissa and I would always save her boxes, wrappings and ribbons and re-use them on gifts the next year. And maybe the year after that if I can snatch them back fast enough.
Charlene had fallen in love with the laser cut rolling pins from Valek in Poland, which Larissa would order for the shop. Charlene has confessed to owning six. Copies exist, but I’d argue that Valek’s are the best quality in the depth of the cuts and finesse of the design. Plus, the creator ships directly from Poland in a remarkably short period. Herewith is a video with Charlene’s wonderful shortbread in a classic vanilla flavor, a chocolate version and a mixed spice one that may be my personal favorite. Below is the master recipe with some general instructions and the instructive video was created by Nils Bertrand, the videographer for Kitchen Detail.
A Video Shows The Way
The base recipe and the two variations that Charlene chose from a page full of different possibilities are from an old Martha Stewart magazine. Once you have made your dough (and it is not hard to make all three) note how Charlene places and loosely wraps her dough in a cling-wrap square package. Then she rolls the dough into a larger square until it fills the cling wrap package.She folds the cling wrap into a larger package than the actual rough square of dough. Then she rolls it out into a larger square or rectangle, which fills the package up to the creased edges. It is so much easier to have this shape, You can then freeze the dough if you are not going to roll and cut cookies in the next day or two.
Save your scraps and roll them out again into a rough rectangle in the cling wrap and pop them back into the fridge to cool down. And then re-roll until you have used every smidgen of your dough.
- 8 ounces (227gr0 best quality unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 cups (240gr)white all purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar (50gr) or caster sugar(115gr) -
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract - see note
- Sift together flour and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a stand mixer bowl, place butter and attach the paddle blade.
- Cream butter until it is pale and, fluffy - 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the sugar of your choice and beat until the sugar completely disappears in the batter, and the mixture is light and silky.
- Add the vanilla and then a bit later, the flour mixture by spoonfuls into the mixer bowl, using a low speed.
- You will be scraping down the sides of the bowl when you mix in these additions.
- The flour should be incorporated and the dough should stick together when you squeeze it with your fingers.
- Following the steps in the video, pat the dough on a large size rectangle of plastic wrap.
- Create a larger sized package around the dough as shown and then roll the dough into the corners and sides of the package to create a square or rectangle of cookie dough.
- Chill the dough in the fridge or freeze it long enough so that it becomes cold and moderately hard
- Preheat oven to 325F (160C) and prepare sheets with Silpat or parchment paper..
- Then when you are ready to roll out, remove it and sprinkle counter and dough lightly with flour - you may have to sprinkle both again to ensure that the dough does not stick.
- Roll out as shown - you want it about 1/4 inch thick.
- Cut shapes as desired and place on baking sheet with silpat - refrigerate for 15 minutes or 8 minutes in the freezer - you want the dough to be cold before placing in the oven.
- Sprinkle white caster or white granulated sugar over the tops before baking - this will give a bit of a sparkle without obliterating the embossed design.
- Check the cookies after 6 minutes and rotate the pans - they should be done within 12-16 minutes, depending on the thickness of your cookies.
- You are looking for a pale gold color on the base of the cookie, with a slight golden edge.
- You will get a much more distinctive flavor with the Essences from Grasse, France that we used to carry at La Cuisine. They are now available at www.simplygourmand.com.
- Use1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon of the French essence to the normal flavorings available.
- I use the almond essence sometimes and not the vanilla.
- We use India Tree Light Muscovado, Caster and Confectioners' sugars - definitely a superior brand.
Variations On A Theme
The spice shortbread is made by replacing the caster sugar with 1/2 cup Light Muscovado Sugar (we use the brand India Tree). You will sift 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (we prefer the Vietnamese cinnamon as it is more pungent) a pinch – literally – of ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, and a few grindings of white pepper into the flour. Proceed with the basic recipe.
You can create a chocolate variation by sifting 1/2 cup cocoa powder into the flour. (We prefer Cocoa Barry Extra Brut, Michel Cluizel or Valrhona). These brands give you a richer cocoa flavor than we experienced with Droste or Hersheys. European brands are usually alkalized or “Dutched”.
In the video, Charlene shows you how the butter-sugar mixture should appear on a spatula when it is ready for the flour. The sugar should be totally dissolved into the butter – another reason why caster or confectioners’ sugar works better than granulated. Once you have followed her procedure on shaping the dough in the oversized plastic wrap package, don’t be afraid of flouring the counter and the top of your dough. The Stretchtite brand that we used to carry in the shop is still her favorite, as it does not wrinkle up when placed on a flat surface, and it seals better than the other brands.
Pre-rolling your dough as shown in the video makes it easier to roll out the dough first with a normal smooth pin and then with the Valek pin.With this method, you are more quickly expanding a rectangle, then if you had not pre-rolled your dough before chilling. You do not want to have a thin dough. True shortbread is a thicker cookie than a sugar cookie -just under a quarter inch is fine. Plus, when you roll out with a Valek pin, you are pushing down and slowly across the dough, and you end up with a more deeply embossed cookie.
Always lightly flour your embossed pin before rolling it slowly and firmly across the dough. Charlene uses a pastry brush to apply the flour, and lightly taps off the excess. This keeps the dough from rolling up around your pin and the details of the laser design will be revealed in sharper detail as you can see from both our banner photo of the spice cookie mixture and from the video of the vanilla or chocolate based shortbread. Sprinkle your cut cookies with white caster sugar before baking. It will give a little sparkle to the finished cookie but not detract from the design – in fact the caster sugar highlights the lovely design on the baked cookie.
In the oven, rotate the sheet after six minutes. Check for doneness after 12 minutes. You may want to bake them a bit longer. They should still be somewhat soft to the touch and slightly golden on the deges and underside. Allow them to cool for a few minutes in the pan and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Wrap them up beautifully, then move fast to gather up discarded packaging to reuse the next time!
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.