27 December 2006

Wintry Shortbread

posted by gastrogirl @ 13:26 to section Cooking


As a person of Celtic extract, I should probably have some strong opinions on shortbread. This might be even more apparent to my friends who were around when I got into a mad bidding war on eBay and spent far too much money on a set of vintage shortbread molds emblazoned with Welsh dragons, Scottish thistles, Irish harps, and English roses (and they don’t even work very well, alas). I do have a few basic criteria: anything called shortbread definitely needs to have plenty of pure butter, no eggs, not be too sugary, and should be crisp, not chewy. I’m not too much of a purist when it comes to the difference between “shortbread” and “shortbread cookie” (traditionally, shortbread is pressed into a mold or formed in a disc, shortbread cookies are just that – rolled into a log and sliced or rolled flat and cut with cookie cutters), but apart from those simple rules, I’m game for a bit of experimentation – plain butter shortbread is a wonderfully simple treat, but there’s no need to stick with just that.

I found this recipe for Rosemary Shortbread a few years ago in Gourmet magazine, and since then it’s become one of my signature holiday cookies. The flavor of rosemary lends a romantic, early-winter mood which goes splendidly with tea. Its texture is both tender yet slightly crisp, and when decorated with little sprigs, makes a lovely and rustic gift when wrapped carefully in parchment and twine.

Rosemary Shortbread
adapted from Gourmet magazine

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup confectioners sugar

superfine sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and rosemary in a bowl.

Mix together butter, honey, and confectioners sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at low speed, then add flour mixture and mix until dough resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Gather dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Knead dough until it just comes together, about 8 times. Halve dough and press each half evenly into a 9-inch pie or tart pan. Score dough into 8 wedges by pricking dotted lines with a fork. If you like, press a spring of rosemary onto the center of each wedge. Sprinkle dough lightly with superfine sugar.

Bake the shortbread until just golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, then cut along score marks with a large heavy knife. Keep shortbread wedges in an airtight container.

* Pressing them into pans makes it easier to make a uniform shape, but if you like, the halves can be rolled into 8-inch discs and placed on baking sheets to cook.


12 December 2006

Blogging by Mail!

posted by gastrogirl @ 12:32 to section Food

My BBM Holiday Package! (well, what’s left of it…)
BBM Holiday 06

A couple of days ago, I received my Blogging by Mail package! It was from from a guinea pig with a wok at wok with me (love the name of her blog), whose blog I’d never read before but will definitely begin doing so regularly – she’s got some great-looking recipes there. I can’t believe how amazingly generous she was with the package; the box was absolutely huge!! You can see in the picture that three of the boxes are empty because they’ve been eaten already. ;) “Diddy” (the nickname she goes by on the blog) is originally from China, so many items had a Chinese theme – for example mooncakes, which I’ve heard so much about but never got around to trying (delicious!), flavoured watermelon seeds, and mix for bubble tea (did you know that I love bubble tea?). She also included a box of Buckeyes since she now resides in in the US, as well as a delicious homemade pumpkin roll cake, chocolate covered pretzels and Russian tea cookies (those last three have already been gobbled up). All I can say is WOW!! Thank you so much! It really made my day and tickled every one of my sweet teeth to a major degree. This Blogging by Mail stuff is so much fun, and I can only hope the partner I’ve sent to is half as pleased – no word yet, but stay tuned…

4 December 2006

Post-Post Thanksgiving Post

posted by gastrogirl @ 14:11 to section Cooking

Well, so much for my plans to take pictures and post about my Thanksgiving this year! Things have been so hectic with me between work, preparing for T-giving, and organizing a 50-person party for my grandmother’s 80th birthday. I also still need to make goodies and send a package to my Blogging By Mail partner. Too much to do! At least on Thanksgiving the Apple, Parsnip, and Sausage dressing I made was well received, as was my variation on a Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cake. If I make the stuffing again, I will use only sweet sausage rather than sweet and hot, and perhaps cut down the meat a little – it was my first time making sausage dressing, and I would have preferred it to be a little less sausagey. The parsnip/apple combination is grand, though, and I’ll have to come up with more ways to pair those two up. The icebox cake was extremely rich and quite good – the main difference from the original recipe was that I made a slightly thicker mousse and soaked the inner ladyfingers in plenty of espresso. The result was something akin to tiramisu but with chocolate mousse instead of mascarpone. The presentation was lovely, just like the picture – so if you’re looking to impress but don’t want to put much time into a dessert, I urge you to try making it.

Meanwhile, here’s a not-so-great photograph of a genuinely great recipe for a pistachio cardamom cake I made a month or so ago when things were slightly less busy. It’s very easy to whip up and is just perfect with tea or coffee. Given that I’m already madly in love with cardamom, when it’s mixed up with pistachio and butter in this cake… swoon. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Pistachio Cardamom Cake

pistachio cardamom cake

1 cup unsalted pistachios
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 scant cup sugar
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grind pistachios in a food processor until fine. Mix nuts with flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom. Cream together butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at at time and beat until fully incorporated. Mix in milk and vanilla, then add flour and pistachio mixture in two or three batches and mix until just combined.

Pour batter into a 9-inch round cake pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick emerges cleanly from the middle. Sift powdered sugar over the top if desired. The cake is wonderful plain or served with fruit such as orange segments or strawberries.