Scottish Shortbreads {Recipe} – Virtual Cookie Exchange

It’s that time of year. Time for decorating, shopping, attending holiday parties, and, of course, COOKIES!! Like many of you, I bake a lot of cookies during the holiday season. So I was excited to once again get invited to my friend Di’s second annual Virtual Cookie Exchange.

Given the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I thought I would choose a really easy recipe. After looking around a bit, I settled on a Scottish Shortbread recipe by my friend and baking mentor, Nick Malgieri.

When I say these cookies are easy, I’m not kidding. There are only three ingredients — butter, sugar, and flour — and they go from mixing to the oven to baked in no time.

Since the only binder is butter, the dough is quite crumbly. But a little kneading and pressing brought it together quite nicely.

After dividing the dough, I pressed it out by hand (no rolling needed), then cut the cookies with a 2 1/2-inch fluted cutter.

The cookies baked up nice and crisp and had that wonderful, buttery shortbread flavor. As simple as it was, this was definitely a winning recipe, and one I’m sure to repeat often. And not just during the holiday season.

Nick’s recipe for Scottish Shortbread can be found here, along with a lot of other wonderful recipes. I’ve also reprinted the shortbread recipe below.

Scottish Shortbread

Makes about 40 cookies, depending on the size of the cutter used

  • 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans lined with parchment or foil

  1. Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed until very soft and light, about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the bowl from the mixer and incorporate the flour by hand, using a large rubber spatula.
  4. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and fold it over on itself 2 or 3 times to makes sure it is completely smooth. Use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into 4 pieces.
  5. Lightly flour the work surface and gently pat the dough with the palm of you hand until it is about 1/4-inch thick (The dough is much too soft for a rolling pin.)
  6. Run a large knife or spatula under the dough to make sure it isn’t stuck to the work surface.
  7. Use a 2 1/2- to 3-inch fluted cutter to cut out the shortbreads. Place them in the prepared pans about 1 inch apart on all sides as they are cut.
  8. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
  9. After you have used all the dough, gently knead the scraps together, then press the dough and cut it again. You may continue to do so until there are no scraps left as long as you don’t use too much flour under or on the dough, which will toughen the shortbreads.
  10. Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, or until they are light golden. Change the position of the pans from upper to lower rack and vice versa, also turning them back to front at least once during baking. If your oven gives strong bottom heat, stack 2 pans together for baking on the bottom rack to provide extra insulation against burning the shortbreads.
  11. Slide the papers from the pans to racks to cool the shortbreads.

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts {FFwD}

As in November, for the month of December French Fridays with Dorie will be free form. We have a list of five recipes from which to choose: Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts; My Go-to Beef Daube; Leek and Potato Soup; Speculoos; and (the one I lobbied for) Spiced Butter-Glazed Carrots. Each week, we are free to pick the recipe from the list that we would like to make and blog for that Friday.

For this first week of December I chose the first recipe, Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts. Weeknights around here are generally for simple, tried and true recipes or (more often) take out, and I reserve my experimental and club cooking/baking for the weekends. This means that I have to stay about a week ahead on FFwD to get my posts up by Friday. Unfortunately, with Thanksgiving last weekend, that didn’t happen, so I had to pick something I could easily make in the evening after work. This recipe seemed simple enough to make during the week, and as an added bonus, I had all the ingredients on hand.

The recipe is quick to mix up: I stirred sugar, salt, chili powder, cinnamon, and a pinch of cayenne powder in a bowl.

I stirred an egg white in another bowl, then added two cups of raw almonds and stirred to coat the nuts.

I added the sugar and spice mixture and mixed it all together.

The recipe says to take the nuts out of the bowl one at a time, scrape off the excess egg white, and place each nut individually on the baking sheet. Dorie apparently has a lot more patience than I do. After putting two or three nuts on the pan that way, I started putting them on the pan by the handful. The recipe also says to try to separate the nuts on the pan, but I found there were too many almonds to really do this.

I baked the nuts in a 300°F oven for 30 minutes, until the nuts were well-browned and the topping was mostly dry.

After cooling the nuts on the pan for a few minutes, I removed them to a Silpat, breaking them apart as I took them off the pan.

Looking at the almonds, I realized they probably would have looked better had I followed the instructions and scraped off the egg white mixture and separated the nuts on the pan. If I were making these for a cocktail party, I might go through the trouble. But I was making them for a TV snack, and for that they looked fine.

These almonds were delicious. Slightly sweet, and deliciously spicy, once I started eating them, I couldn’t stop. The chili and cayenne powders gave the nuts a nice kick, while the cinnamon and sugar provided just enough sweetness to make them addictive.

If you’re baking along with FFwD, or if you have Around My French Table and want a great recipe to try, don’t skip these cocktail nuts. But be warned: you may end up eating them all.

Note: Since writing this blog post, I learned a trick that keeps the nuts from sticking together as much. Mix the egg white with 1 tablespoon water, lemon juice, or lime juice and 1 teaspoon salt. Then, after tossing the nuts in the egg white mixture, drain in a colander before adding the spices.

Kouing Amman: Breton Butter & Sugar Pastry {ModBak}

“This Breton specialty is like a cross between croissant dough and palmiers….”

So begins Nick Malgieri‘s description of Kouing Amman. Who wouldn’t want that? Flaky, buttery croissant dough crusted in caramelized sugar. So, even though I had never heard of this pastry, I was excited to try the next recipe in the Modern Baker Challenge.

The recipe consists of a simple dough, folded with butter and rolled with sugar. After mixing yeast, water, flour, salt, and butter into a dough, which I chilled for half an hour, I rolled out the dough, and smeared it with butter.

I folded the dough in thirds, scattered the work surface and dough with sugar, rolled the dough out into a rectangle, and gave it another fold. I refrigerated the dough for an hour, then continued the process of rolling and folding the dough, liberally sugaring the dough and work surface all the while.

After working in about one cup of sugar, I rolled the dough into a circle and pressed it into a 10-inch round stoneware baking pan. I sprinkled on the last of the sugar, then covered the dough and let it rise for about two hours. I baked the pastry at 350° F for one hour, until it was well-puffed and the sugar on top had caramelized.

When it came out of the oven, the pastry was swimming in sugary butter (you can see some of it in the lower right hand side of the pan in the picture above), which absorbed into the pastry as it cooled. I let it cool completely, then sliced and served it right from the pan.

The Kouing Amman was flaky, crusty with sugar, and looked really light. When I cut into it with a fork, I was surprised to find it a little tough. It tasted pretty good, and it had distinct layers like puff pastry, but it was a bit on the chewy side. I found the toughness of the pastry layers offputting and not something I’d like to eat too often.

In the end, the flavor was fine, but the texture was such that I don’t see myself making this recipe again.

Perfect Elephant Ears — The Modern Baker

Having recently tried my hand at homemade puff pastry, I needed to find ways to use it. One of the recipes I was most excited to try was Perfect Elephant Ears on page 210 of The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri. Although we won’t get to the Puff Pastry section in the Modern Baker Challenge for almost a year, I couldn’t wait to make these wonderful looking pastries.

The ingredients list couldn’t be any simpler: puff pastry and sugar. That’s right, no cocoa, cinnamon, or other spices. Just puff pastry rolled in enough sugar to caramelize the ears.

I began by sprinkling the board and puff pastry liberally with sugar, then patting out the pastry to soften it slightly. I rolled the pastry into a rectangle, adding more sugar to the board and top of the pastry as I went. I rolled the sides of the pastry in toward the middle, then rolled one side over the other and flattened the resulting cylinder slightly.

After chilling the dough, I sliced it with a sharp knife, dredged the pieces in sugar, and put them on a baking pan lined with a Silpat. I baked the elephant ears at 375° F for about 18 minutes, until they were well caramelized, almost to the point of burning.

I enjoyed the elephant ears with a cup of tea. The lightness of the puff pastry paired well with the caramelized sugar. These pastries were so simple to make, but were delicious enough to serve to company.

Now that I’ve discovered how easy it is to make puff pastry, I will have treats like these elephant ears around quite often.

Hopefully not too often.

Easy Lemon Italian “Icee”

A few years ago my wife developed an obsession for Lemon Italian Ice, to the point that I was going to Rita’s about three or four times per week. They got to know me pretty well that summer. In fact, when I pulled into the parking lot, they started scooping my quarts for me. She likes a lot of flavors — mango, raspberry, peach, cherry, to name a few — but her favorite by far is Alex’s Lemonade. I bought three to four quarts every time I visited Rita’s.

Although we did our best to keep Rita’s in business, summer came to an end, and the Italian ice stand closed for the year. I tried to stock up on lemon ice as best I could, but we were out of “icee”, as my wife calls it, by the end of October. Those were desperate days in our house. We tried some store brand Italian ices, called around, and checked the internet for other places we could get icee. But all to no avail. There was no good substitute for Alex’s Lemonade to be had.

Finally, my wife and I were talking about it, and I asked, “How hard could it be to make Italian ice? I mean, it’s basically sugar, water, and lemon juice, right?” And thus began several months of experimentation — the details of which I will spare you — which resulted in the following recipe.

Note that this recipe can be made in an ice cream freezer, but it’s just as good using the “lazy man’s” freezing method described below.

Lemon Italian Icee

Makes about 2 quarts

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar (or mixture of sugar and Splenda; see below)
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 1/3 cups lemon juice
  • zest of 1 lemon (optional)

Directions

  1. Put sugar in a large bowl. Add boiling water and stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
  2. Add cold water, lemon juice, and zest, if using. Mix well.
  3. Lazy Man’s Method:  Pour mixture into one-quart containers and freeze. To serve, microwave at 70% power for 2 minutes.
  4. Ice Cream Freezer Method:  Refrigerate mixture until well chilled, then freeze in ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s instructions.

I make about 16 quarts of icee — using the lazy method and no zest — about once per week. Since we eat so much of it, I substitute Splenda for most of the sugar. I have found it doesn’t freeze well if I omit all of the sugar, but I successfully use Splenda for up to 3/4 of the sugar in the recipe.

As I mentioned above, this recipe is the result of a lot of experimentation. Many of the recipes and methods I tried were a lot more complicated, but this one, in addition to being almost embarrassingly simple, produces the best-tasting lemon ice. And unfortunately for Rita’s, my wife likes my icee even better than Alex’s Lemonade.

Butterscotch Scones {ModBak}

The 10th recipe (out of 15) in the Quick Bread section of The Modern Baker is Butterscotch Scones.  

  

I mixed up these scones while the Ginger Scones were baking. It took almost exactly as long to prepare these scones as it did to bake the ginger ones.  

First, I mixed the dry ingredients in the food processor.

Then, I added the butter and pulsed to mix.

Finally, I added the eggs and milk.

After the final mix in the food processor, I turned the dough out onto a Silpat, kneaded it four or five times, then divided the dough into three pieces. I patted each piece into a round, then divided the rounds into four wedges.  

  

I baked the scones for 15 minutes, until they were well-browned.  

  

As with the ginger scones, I ate these scones fresh from the oven. I wasn’t exactly disappointed with the taste, but compared to the ginger scones, they weren’t quite as flavorful. As I reread the recipe while preparing this post, I realized that I had used unsalted butter, which may explain why the scones seemed to be lacking in flavor.  

Even with unsalted butter, however, they were worth baking (and eating). I will make these scones again, with salted butter next time, to see how they taste when they are made correctly.

Updated 5/26/2010:  I baked these again tonight, this time using salted butter. I could tell even before I baked them that these would have a true butterscotch flavor. And they did not disappoint. If they were good before, this time they are excellent. Every bit as good as the ginger scones, which I absolutely loved.