Tag Archives: butter

{lavender shortbread}

as i’ve said in previous posts, it doesn’t take much to make me don my apron (random cravings are usually considered valid excuses to bake), but this week i do have a legitimate need to bake: it is my duty to contribute 6 dozen delicious cookies for the studio tour this weekend.

last year i baked up a couple of batches of ginger crunch and they were received with oohs and aaahs.  i was planning a repeat performance this year until inspiration struck when i was cutting some lavender from my garden.  i dug out my ‘celebrate lavender festival 2002 cookbook’ and read through the recipes.  there’s a lovely lavender sugar cookie dipped in dark chocolate which i’ve made several times, though i envisioned them all melting together in the heat this weekend and decided i needed something sturdier.  lavender shortbread cookies fit the bill perfectly.

these pale and speckled little bites taste like summer (well, like my imaginary summer in the south of france).  they are mysteriously fragrant – buttery and floral.  they are indeed sturdy, though they taste delicate and soft and not at all like they should be consumed with egg-nog.  they are so easy to eat on their own, one after another, though they beg to be paired with some lavender lemonade on a hot afternoon, or to be taken with tea (proper cup and saucer, and at least one lace doily).

this recipe is as simple as it gets.  the most taxing step is making the lavender sugar, and really, it’s not too taxing at all.  the notes suggest using a food processor or spice mill.  i found my food processor didn’t mince up the lavender buds adequately, so instead i pounded them with my mortar and pestle, which ground up the buds nicely.  the contents did look much like lawn mower clippings, but i went with it and everything turned out beautifully.  as long as the buds are broken up into little threads, you won’t detect their texture in the finished cookies.

my plan for the weekend cookies is to sprinkle them with some lavender sugar prior to baking so they look a little more dressed up (but i’ll sift the lavender out because, though the whole buds do look pretty, they aren’t so nice to chew on).  i hope that they will garner a few oohs and aaahs as well!

•  •  •

lavender shortbread cookies (from ‘the 6th annual celebrate lavender festival 2002 cookbook’, this recipe was contributed by ‘the herbfarm cookbook – 2000’)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, but take out of the fridge 15 minutes before making the dough
4 tbsp fresh lavender buds, or 2 tsp dried lavender buds
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour

• make lavender sugar: you’re basically grinding the lavender buds with the sugar and there are a few ways you can do this. if using a spice mill or coffee grinder (clean, of course), mix the buds with 1/4 cup of the sugar and grind until fine, then mix in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. if using a food processor, mix the buds with all the sugar and blitz until fine. i used my mortar and pestle (see notes in post above) to grind up the lavender buds, then mixed with 1/4 cup sugar and ground some more, then stirred in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.
• beat the butter (which was on the counter for 15 minutes) with the lavender sugar in your stand mixer on low-speed until the mixture is smooth and there are no detectable lumps of butter when you roll a tsp of the dough between your fingers. DO NOT beat until fluffy. add the flour all at once and mix on low-speed until it forms a cohesive dough.
• turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface (i use a tea towel*) and form it into a smooth rectangular block with no cracks. using a rolling-pin (and more flour, sparingly), roll dough into a 12″ x 9″ rectangle, 1/4″ thick, rotating the dough a quarter turn (gently) each time you roll to ensure it doesn’t stick (i never have this problem when using a floured tea towel). using a straight edge and a paring knife or pastry wheel, cut the dough into 3″ x 1 1/2″ bars, or cut with cookie cutters (i cut into smaller squares and slightly oblong bars). using a spatula, transfer cookies to parchment lined cookie sheets, leaving 1/2″ between the cookies, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before baking.
• preheat oven to 300 f. bake cookies until they are coloured lightly like sand, not browned, 22-25 minutes (mine were ready at 18 minutes so start checking early! you don’t want these golden or brown, just pale). lift one to check the underside; it should be just a shade darker on the top. place pan on a rack and cool completely on the pan before moving. stack the cooled cookies in an airtight container and store at room temp for up to a week.  makes 24 cookies (unless you cut them smaller, like i did).  enjoy!

•  •  •

•  •  •

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cow pie {chocolate chip cookies}

when i first started baking (decades ago.  decades.  ouch.), i couldn’t make a chocolate chip cookie that didn’t resemble a cow pie.  the cow pie isn’t a very appealing image, i know, but it very aptly described their appearance – wide, flat and bumpy.  looking back, i’m sure this propensity to spread had more to do with my technique than it did with the recipe.  too soft butter (i probably used margarine in those early days – shudder.), too hot an oven,  over beating the dough, using super-dark cookie sheets…all my own missteps.  i had always viewed my cow pie cookies as inferiors to their puffy, golden, cakey cousins, and have been disappointed with just about every single batch i’ve ever made, until last night.

TDHH knows all he has to do is utter the words “i wish we could have some cookies/cake/brownies tonight” and i’ll have my apron tied and ingredients out before he actually finishes his sentence.  i love baking that much.

so last night he requested chocolate chip cookies.   i had already started mentally perusing my recipes, wondering which would yield the least cowpieish cookies, when he clarified that he was hoping for thin, buttery chocolate chip cookies.  a sincere request for cow pies?  really?

i recalled a recipe which met this very description and used fridge-cold butter*, a specification which makes these ideal for a spontaneous treat.  i had scrawled it into my recipe book years ago, and if i recall correctly, it belongs to david lebovitz.  now, i don’t know if his recipe was meant to produce  cow pies, but it does for me, reliably, and i had always considered this a drawback until i came to my cookie senses last night.

these cookies are very thin and golden and studded with dark chocolate chips.  they are buttery and sugary and vanilla-y.  they are at once crispy and chewy.  what in the world is inferior about that?  these cookies are, in a word, sublime – sublime enough to have made me appreciate every bit of their cowpieness and to have been deemed worthy of a spot near the top of my imaginary cookie recipe podium.

*don’t be bothered by this.  it works.  really.

•  •  •

david lebovitz’s (cow pie) {chocolate chip cookies}  (i probably don’t need to restate this, but they’re from david lebovitz)
makes about 2 dozen

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
8 tbsp (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1  1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1  1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (i used a combination of bittersweet chips, fudge chips and semi-sweet chips)
1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped (we weren’t in the mood for nuts)

•preheat oven to 300°f.  beat the sugars and cold butter until smooth (i used my stand mixer – this is one you couldn’t do by hand).  mix in egg and vanilla and baking soda (adding the baking soda like this seemed weird to me).
•stir flour and salt together, then stir into the butter mixture.  stir in the chocolate chips (and nuts, if using).
•scoop batter into 2 tbsp balls and place 4″ apart on cookie sheet (i wonder if they would have spread less if i didn’t use parchment?).  bake for 18 minutes (mine were done in 15).  cool somewhat before handling as they’re fragile when hot.  enjoy!

•  •  •

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sweet lessons {maple syrup fudge}

i don’t like fudge. it has always been one of the few sweets i could decline without feeling deprived. until now.

my undoing was innocently orchestrated by an eighty-eight year old great-grandmother. she’s not my own great-grandmother, but she is a great-grandmother who has spent much of her life cooking and baking for legions of family, friends and strangers. we got to talking one day about making maple syrup, which led her to mention her maple syrup fudge, which led to an invitation to make it with her sometime, which led to me discovering my (until now) unknown weakness for homemade fudge.

i’ve always filed candy making away in the ‘too intimidating’ category. boiling sugar, thermometers, the soft-ball/hard-crack/went-too-far-and-ruined-the-pan stages have always seemed a little too subjective yet critically important for me to bother with, and anything you mustn’t stir makes me suspicious.

my anti-fudgeness is also due to the fact that i don’t really care for treats that are cavity-inducingly sweet. straight-up sugar and artificial flavourings repel me (and make IDS positively cringe) but…pure maple syrup and butter and cream? wow. the first bite, when it was still warm, was incredible – smooth, creamy and robustly mapley without being cloyingly sweet.

the technique, it turns out, couldn’t be simpler: mix ingredients in a sturdy pot, slowly bring to a boil and wait patiently (the specifics are detailed below). the hardest part was not stirring – it took significant willpower to resist diving in with a wooden spoon (i’m sure some of you cooks and bakers can relate). it is also taking significant willpower to resist making another batch right now. i’ll try to hold off until our own maple syrup is ready (the season came early so we’re not quite prepared for gallons of sap just yet).

it’s not as if i needed another vice, but i was sent home with a bag of peanut butter fudge, too. peanut butter anything brings me to my knees, and pb fudge is even creamier and smoother than its maple syrup cousin, with a comforting and not too sweet pb base. swoon. (i also scored that recipe – i’ll post it when i try making a batch of my own).

thank you, surrogate great-grandmother, for generously sharing your kitchen and your kitchen wisdom with me – such sweet lessons! and now, if you’ll excuse me, i must go for a post fudge-binge run.

• • •

eva’s maple syrup fudge

2 cups pure maple syrup
3/4 cup 10% cream
2 tbsp butter (i’m not sure if we used salted or unsalted, but a little salt might be nice)
candy thermometer
bowl of cold water on stand-by
8″ square pan, greased (great-grandmother [GGM] used a small glass pie plate)

•gently mix syrup and cream in a heavy saucepan, then drop in the butter. affix the thermometer, making sure it isn’t resting on the bottom of the pan. bring mixture to a boil over medium heat.
•continue to boil, without stirring, gradually reducing the temperature to avoid too vigorous a boil (that’s the tricky part…i’d say you want a perky but not hysterical boil – we eventually had it down to ‘2’, or just above minimum) until it reaches 236°f-238°f (this took a good 45 minutes. you don’t need to hover, but do check it every five minutes or so to monitor the rate of boiling closely).
•when the temperature is right, drizzle a few drops of the syrupy mixture into the bowl of cold water (GGM used fridge cold water), then play with it a bit – you should be able to form it into a soft ball and squish it easily between your fingertips.
•cool, without stirring, until lukewarm, officially, that is 110°f (GGM placed her pot in a sink of cold water to cool it, then repeated before leaving the pot to cool).
•when lukewarm, beat with a spoon until creamy – it will start to thicken then start to stiffen up slightly, you want to pour it into the pan while it is still liquid enough to pour. you will have to scrape the sticky mess off the bottom of the pot initially – don’t panic – just scrape and keep stirring, it will all work out.
•pour into the greased pan and set aside until it’s cool enough to handle, then cut into squares (i strongly encourage you to try a piece while it’s still warm). enjoy your new addiction!

• • •

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the enigmatic ginger crunch

i think a great recipe is made even greater if it has a history of good memories behind it.  this is one of those recipes.

‘the enigmatic ginger crunch’ recipe came into my life when TDHH and i were exploring the maritimes this summer.  a spate of unseasonably cold and wet weather froze and saturated our usually more rugged selves and had us neglecting our tent in favour of a warm and dry b&b.  by the time we made it to lunenburg, nova scotia, we were beginning to lose hope in tourist accommodations.  we had come across too many sadly dated pastel colour schemes, surfaces covered with dead-eyed porcelain dolls and bowls of synthetic potpourri (IDS was not amused).  even TDHH, who has and will sleep anywhere, found the plethora of lace doilies and forced conversation with too-keen hosts eerily unpleasant.  then we found ‘1775 solomon house’ (one of the oldest historic homes in lunenburg) which was, by vast leaps and bounds, the most brilliant b&b we’ve ever experienced.  authentic, antique, welcoming and instantly comfortable.  the host, janet, artfully curated our time in lunenburg, ensuring we found the hidden beaches and out-of-the-way bakeries.  it turns out janet knows her way around the kitchen, too.

 

 

when we arrived late in the evening, we  found a dainty dish of these mysteriously delicious bites of glory awaiting us.  they didn’t look terribly exciting, but after one bite, i had to have the recipe.

thankfully, janet was willing to share.  i learned that janet is a former cafe-owner/chef from saskatchewan, who received the recipe by way of a new zealander customer of hers who traded it for a recipe of janet’s which she coveted.  going back a little further, i’ve read that the recipe originated many years ago in scotland and made its way to new zealand with what must have been a very discerning, food-loving scot.  such a convoluted path!

so now for the enigma explanation.  when i first tasted these, i was sure that they involved browned-butter.  others have queried cardamom or lavender.  no one who has tried them (in my presence, anyway) has correctly identified the flavour.  it turns out it comes simply from powdered ginger, butter and a splash of vanilla.

like most of the recipes i return to again and again, these ingredients create a fabulous flavour that belies their simple origin.  the combination of the thin ginger shortbread base and the smooth, subtly gingery fudge topping is a knock-out.  people have literally swooned when tasting them, and i daresay you will, too.  you may even taste the maritime architecture and the atlantic air.

• • •

ginger crunch, aka kiwi crunch (i found the same recipe in gourmet, december 1999)

for the base:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 or so pieces

for the topping:
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 tbsp lyle’s golden syrup (corn syrup will do in a pinch)
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla

•sift the base ingredients together (i just whisk them) and blend in
the butter until it resembles coarse meal (i use my stand mixer). press evenly into a greased and parchment-lined 9×13″ metal pan (i learned that part the hard way – definitely line your pan). bake at 350°f for 15-25 minutes until golden and crisp (i know that’s a wide range in terms of time – what it means is don’t take your eyes off of it after the 15 minute mark – it browns quickly).

•just before the base is done (about 5 minutes if you can time it), melt the topping butter in a heavy pot, then whisk in the remaining ingredients until smooth. bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring, for about 30 seconds. remove the golden base from the oven and pour the topping over-top, tilting the pan to cover evenly. cool in the pan on a rack and cut into small squares or rectangles while cooling (for me, i wait 5-6 minutes so they’re cool enough that the topping is starting to set but not so cool that they crack). cool completely in pan.

yields about 2-5 dozen, depending on size cut.  squares keep at least 3 days in an airtight container.

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don’t fear the crust – how to make a perfect {sour cherry amaretto} pie

TDHH has been dropping frequent and increasingly less subtle hints lately that he would like a cherry pie.  his request is due in part to the fact that we’ve been re-watching ‘twin peaks’.  episode after episode, we are subjected to special agent dale cooper’s adoration and enjoyment of slice after slice of gorgeous cherry pie (yum to both the pie and special agent cooper).

so today i am straying (again) from my original pledge to share gift-able items, but i think i can get off on a technicality by stretching the definition a little bit to include home-made things that people like to receive.  and home-made pie is surely one of those things.  my IDS* feels there is no excuse for buying pie crust and pie filling, and i tend to agree, not because i’m a snob, but because i get so much pleasure out of baking a pie that i cannot bring myself to buy one.  sure, baking from scratch takes longer, but the effort more than pays for itself in taste and appearance.

a good pie is something of an enigma.  it is so simple in its components – there is nothing new-fangled or high-tech about it, but a good pie evades many a baker, and it is the crust that is most often the culprit.  crust intimidates and causes many a capable baker to defer to frozen pie shells.  because TDHH has always been more of a pie man than a cake and cookies man, i’ve had many opportunities to hone my pastry making skills over the years.  there is an art and science  to pastry making to be sure (you can read more about the science part here), and while i have no illusions of being a master pastry chef or food scientist, i’d like to offer my tried and true tips for creating a knock-your-socks-off, home-made work of art.

here is what i’ve learned (the hard way):

1.  use butter.  yes, using shortening will yield the flakiest crust imaginable, but i prefer the flavour of an all-butter crust.  executed correctly, an all-butter crust will be beautifully flaky and tender, lovely and golden, and more delicious than anything made with hydrogenated oils.

2.  cold is key.  butter must be fridge-cold and firm, never ever soft or room-temperature.  your liquid, whether water, milk or buttermilk, must be icy.  that said, i don’t bother with ice-cubes – fridge-cold or tap-cold will do (but let it get as cold as can be).

3.  hands off!  my pastry improved dramatically when i stopped using pastry cutters and hands and started using my stand-mixer.  despite the fact that my hands are usually cold, i would inevitably warm the butter and over-mix everything, yielding a gummy, glutinous gaffe of a crust.  but in my mixer, it’s magic.  mix with the paddle until the butter is mostly incorporated and some small shards remain.  it works equally as well in a food processor, in fact it’s faster, but i have a soft spot for my mighty mixer and prefer it over the food pro for pastry.

4.  for the love of betty crocker, don’t over-mix.  while the mixer is stirring, add the frigid liquid in a slow but steady stream and stop pouring as soon as everything starts to come together.  you may need more or less liquid depending or your altitude (it’s true!).   you want the dough cohesive enough that most of it is clinging to the paddle – think chunks of play-doh.  pull it all together gently with your hands and form it into a disc, resisting the urge to knead, mash or otherwise overwork the dough (you will make two discs if it’s a double crust affair).

5.  chill some more.  wrap your disc in cling-film and chill before you roll it out.  i find 15 or 20 minutes in the fridge is plenty – any longer and the dough becomes too stiff to work with.  likewise, keep the prepared crust in the fridge until it’s ready to be filled and baked.

6.  skip the floured counter.  my mother-in-law rolls her pastry on a clean dish towel.  imagine!  it works like a charm.  no more sticky counters or PITA pastry mats to wash.  use a clean kitchen towel, sprinkle with flour, and roll away.  roll only north-south/east-west and out from the center – does that make sense?  it’s easier to make it round that way.  pick up and turn the dough as you’re rolling – it prevents sticking and you won’t need as much flour.  a french rolling-pin makes the rolling a little easier, but as you can see, it’s not a deal-breaker.

7.  use a glass pie plate.  seriously.  in my baking dark ages, i used those ‘non-stick’ metal pie tins.  too dark.  too inconsistent.  too non-see through.  switching to pyrex has meant no more underbaked crusts.  being able to see the bottom and assess the done-ness is, for me, essential.  and so far i haven’t dropped a hot pie on my face while cautiously holding it above my head to check the bottom.

8.  may i make one more stipulation?  the filling must be home-made.  yes, it’s slightly more time-consuming, but there is something soothing and satisfying about stirring fruit and sugar in a big bowl and tipping it into a waiting pastry shell.

so fear not the home-made pie!  it is so much easier than it looks.  below is my go-to recipe for sour cherry pie.  it is an amalgamation of recipes and experience – guaranteed to satisfy any IDS and special agent that you may encounter (and it is heartily endorsed by TDHH).

*inner domestic snob (introduced here).

•   •   •

sour cherry pie (crust adapted from mark bittman, filling adapted from rebar)
for pastry (makes a double crust):
2 1/4 cups  all-purpose flour
1 tsp  salt (i use about 3/4 tsp)
2 tsp  sugar (i use vanilla sugar – sugar stored with used vanilla beans – mmm)
1 cup  cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6 tbsp ice-cold water (you may need more or less)
•combine flour, salt and sugar in stand mixer (he uses a food processor).  add the butter and stir with mixer until blended  and the mixture resembles cornmeal with some small lumps of butter.
with the mixer stirring, drizzle in the water and stop pouring when the dough starts to form around the paddle.  remove to some cling-film, gather together into 2 equal discs, wrap in the cling and chill for 15 – 30 minutes.
•when ready to fill, roll out one disc to 1/4″ thickness on a clean, floured dish towel.  transfer to glass pie plate by draping the dough over your rolling-pin.  store in fridge while preparing lattice top.  roll out second disc as above and cut into strips.  place strips across top of filled pie, weaving as you go.
for cherry amaretto filling:
2 x 796mL jars  pitted sour cherries (double-check that all pits were removed by rolling between fingertips)
1/2 cup  granulated sugar
1/4 cup  cornstarch
1 tbsp  amaretto (optional, but so good)
1/2-1 tsp  pure almond extract
1 tbsp milk
1-2 tbsp   turbinado sugar for topping
•combine all ingredients except milk and turbinado in a large bowl, making sure there are no lumps of cornstarch.  pour into chilled pie crust, top with lattice, brush with milk and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.
bake at 450°f for 10 minutes, then decrease to 350°f and bake for another 40-50 minutes (mine usually needs longer), until filling is bubbly and thickened and bottom crust appears golden.  cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

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