Monday, December 21, 2015

Family Shortbread Recipe

If I were to make just one cookie for Christmas? It's shortbread. In our family, Christmas isn't Christmas without shortbread, spare, simple, ethereal English shortbread. Here I've collected all the family tricks and tips all in one place.

Merry Christmas, All. May your season be remembered for kindness and generosity and if you're lucky, a piece of shortbread or two at the end of the day ...

Family Shortbread ♥, three generations of tips and tricks for traditional English shortbread.

"Stop! You're overthinking it!" That's what the Family Shortbread Queen aka my sister blurted out when teaching me how to make shortbread a few years back. Adanna's shortbread is ethereal. Buttery and barely sweet. Ever so tender but with that perfect "snap" when you bite into it.

Our family shortbread recipe comes from our grandmother, a Canadian married to an Englishman. Like all shortbread, it's spare and simple, just a few good ingredients.

Since that first lesson, I've made many-a-batch of shortbread, collecting the details on what works and doesn't, what's worth investing in and what can be put aside.

It turns out, for something as simple as shortbread, detail matters.

Oh! And word to the wise? Santa l-o-v-e-s shortbread!

Family Shortbread ♥, three generations of tips and tricks for traditional English shortbread.


Hands-on time: 15 minutes to mix, 60 to roll & bake
Time to table: 2 hours
Makes about 4-1/2 dozen small cookies or fewer larger cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 225g) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, optional

  • 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 2-1/2 cups (315g) all-purpose flour
  • Raw sugar (my favorite) or colored sugar, for coating Slice 'n' Bake Shortbread Rounds
  • Powdered sugar, for rolling

AN HOUR BEFORE MIXING Let the butter and vanilla rest in your mixing bowl for one hour. Line baking sheets with parchment. Measure the sugar and salt into one small bowl, the flour into another.

MIX THE SHORTBREAD DOUGH With a hand mixer, mix the butter and vanilla together on low speed until thoroughly combined and the butter is slightly soft; stop at least once and probably twice to use a knife to scrape the butter off the mixing blades and a spatula to scrape the mixing bowl, especially the bottom of the bowl.

Slowly pour in the sugar in a stream. At low to medium speed, combine butter and sugar until completely combined; stop to scrape at least once, maybe two or three times.

At low speed, mix in about a third of the flour, just until combined; scrape the beaters and the bowl. Add the remaining flour. At low speed, combine the mixture, it will start off floury and then sandy, keep mixing until the dough comes together.

CHILL FOR AN HOUR Separate dough into two roughly equal pieces. For Slice 'n' Bake Shortbread Rounds, form each piece into a round log; for Shortbread Fingers (my favoriate), form each piece into a round log, then flatten the logs slightly; for Shortbread Cutout Shapes, form each pieces into a flat disk.

Wrap the logs or disks in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 - 60 minutes, less time the thinner the pieces, more time the thicker the pieces. (If the dough refrigerates longer than this, it'll need to be left out at room temperature for 30 - 60 minutes to reach a good working temperature. The dough should be firm but pliable, with firm edges and easily lifted from underneath without breaking apart or bending.

ROLL & BAKE Set oven to 300F/150C with the rack in the center.

Whatever shape you choose, please know that shortbread "relaxes" more than "spreads" during baking but still, don't crowd the cookies on the baking sheet. The baking time will vary based on how thick the cookies are. Until you get to know your own oven with how thick you roll shortbread, start checking at 10 minutes; quite thick cookies can take 25 - 35 minutes. When done, the cookies should be golden at the edges and on the bottoms but quite white in the center even though baked all the way through. Once baked, the cookies should "snap" when bitten into but shouldn't be hard.

For Slice 'n' Bake Shortbread Rounds, roll the log in raw sugar or colored sugar, gently pressing the log into the sugar to completely coat. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into rounds and transfer onto a baking sheet.

For Shortbread Fingers, with your hands, lightly brush the dough log with powdered sugar. With a rolling pin, roll the flattened log into a much longer and slightly wider piece of dough; use the flat edge of a long knife to neaten the long edges; make sure the dough is of even thickness throughout. If you like, once the dough is the right thickness, use a fluted-edge cutting device to give a nice shape to the edges, I love this wavy crinkle cutter. First, cut off a tiny tiny bit of dough on all four sides, then cut cross-wise into "fingers". Use an offset spatula to lift each finger onto a baking sheet.

For Shortbread Cutout Shapes, with your hands, dust the first dough disk with powdered sugar. Roll out the disk to an even thickness, use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Use an offset spatula to lift each shape onto a baking sheet. Set aside the scraps. Repeat with the second dough disk. Combine the scraps from both disks and roll again.

ALANNA's TIPS (because yes, I'm prone to over-thinking ... )
SALTED BUTTER Yes, salted butter. #AllTheTime but especially for old-fashioned recipes. Besides, did you know that unsalted butter is kind of an American thing? The Scandinavians, for example, have no tradition of unsalted butter. See? I'm not such an outlier, using salted butter! And yes I usually still add just a little more salt.
GOOD BUTTER Good butter matters in shortbread. It should be purchased recently (days matter ...) and kept cold in the fridge until ready to bake. I have zero luck with less expensive butter from Sam's Club, Costco and Trader Joe's. I'm a Land O Lakes butter baker going way-way back. It pays to shop around for price, this year I'm making regular trips to Walmart for two-pound packages, $3.25 a pound. Other years, it's been Target or my local grocery with special deals.
ROOM TEMPERATURE BUTTER Avoid any temptation to rush getting the butter to room temperature. It just doesn't pay, frustration-wise, because you'll find yourself cleaning off the beaters and scraping the bowl so many more times. That said, it's equally important to not let it sit out much more than an hour too, temperature is important to shortbread structure, not just taste. FYI I do find that it takes slightly less time to bring butter to room temperature when it's been stored in the door of the fridge instead of inside.
FLOUR, SUGAR & POWDERED SUGAR Make sure your flour and powdered sugar are fresh, purchased within a couple of weeks of baking. For sugar and powdered sugar, use cane sugar, not the less-expensive non-cane sugars.
HAND MIXER Both my sister and I get better results mixing shortbread using a hand mixer, you just have more control and it's plain easier to scrape the beaters and the bowl. That said, I do use my hand mixer in the Kitchen Aid metal bowl, works like a charm, especially with a rubber base beneath the bowl so it doesn't slip around. Just recently, I've started using the "whipping cream" beaters, the ones with narrower blades; they're easier to scrape off the butter/dough as it mixes!
MIXER SPEED Keep the mixer on low or medium speed, not high. For shortbread, you want to gently but thoroughly combine the few ingredient without adding air.
POWDERED SUGAR FOR ROLLING Why powdered sugar for rolling the shortbread? This is a trick I've used forever with my Cut-Out Spice Cookies and No-Chill Cutout Sugar Cookies. The powdered sugar "melts" into the cookies, flour won't do that.

OTHER PEOPLE'S SHORTBREAD TRICKS I've tried all kinds of shortbread variations, testing one thing and another. Every time, I come back to our Family Shortbread for sheer simplicity and sheer perfection. Here are some things I've tried.

COLD BUTTER I've tried starting with cold butter, knowing butter provides structure not just taste. The result? Pure frustration, scraping and rescraping (and rescraping) the beaters and bowl.
MORE SUGAR I've tried adding more sugar, one popular recipe uses 2/3 cup sugar. To my taste, more sugar isn't necessary and makes for a slightly too-sweet biscuit.
MAPLE SUGAR Maple sugar makes absolutely wonderful shortbread, I learned that this year from Sarah Osborn, the pastry chef at Niche Restaurant here in St. Louis, that's the James Beard award-winning chef Gerard Craft's first restaurant, see Niche Restaurant Shortbread Cookies. But maple sugar is sooo expensive, $25 a pound or more. If it fits your budget, do try maple sugar!
BROWN SUGAR I've tried substituting brown sugar for white sugar. This is a good substitute, the shortbread turns out a little more golden than white, the taste is a nice change. Brown sugar is a poor man's maple sugar!
RICE FLOUR I've tried using some rice flour, 1/4 cup rice flour with 2 cups all-purpose. Rice flour makes nice shortbread, but not noticeably nicer.
LESS FLOUR I've tried using less flour, specifically 2-1/4 cups and 2-3/8 cups instead of 2-1/2 cups. The cookies work out fine with less flour but I'm sticking with my family's ingredient list, the full 2-1/2 cups flour. If you have trouble with shortbread dough turning out floury and crumbly, I'd recommend using less flour, it might help.

Whole Recipe (for easy math for different cookie yields): 3222 Calories; 173g Tot Fat; 117g Sat Fat; 488mg Cholesterol; 2475mg Sodium; 356g Carb; 9g Fiber; 117g Sugar; 34g Protein.
Per Cookie, assumes 54 small cookies: 59 Calories; 3g Tot Fat; 2g Sat Fat; 9mg Cholesterol; 45mg Sodium; 7g Carb; 0g Fiber; 2g Sugar; 1g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 1.5 & PointsPlus 2 (FYI, 2 cookies = 3 points for both)

Family Shortbread, Three Shapes

Family Shortbread ♥, three generations of tips and tricks for traditional English shortbread.

left ~ Shortbread Cutout Shapes, stars and heart shapes were Nana's favorites!
upper right ~ Slice 'n' Bake Shortbread Rounds rolled in raw sugar, a new shape this year!
lower right ~ Shortbread Fingers, my favorite!

Last-Minute Christmas Baking

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
No-Chill Cutout Sugar Cookies Old-Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookies Frosty Christmas Trees

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sugared Cranberries

Prepare to be stunned. Sugared Cranberries are a rush of sweet and sour, wet and dry. It's a big payoff from just two ingredients and a few minutes of time. So festive!

Sugared Cranberries ♥, big payoff for little effort, a rush of sweet and sour, wet and dry.

Can you imagine eating a raw cranberry? I sure couldn't. But once they're sugared? Wow. What a rush of sweet and sour, wet and dry.

And Sugared Cranberries are so pretty! I made these to embellish a plain-jane English-style gingerbread cake that sadly turned out to be more "ginger cake" than "gingerbread" (which means I'm stilllllllll lookin' for "my" recipe, thank you very much) but time got away, that didn't happen.

But I'm happy to have them on hand, a big payoff for little effort. They won't go to waste, this holiday season.


Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Time to table: 24 hours
Makes about 2-1/2 cups

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar

  • 2 cups fresh (not frozen) cranberries
  • 1/2 cup Simple Syrup
  • Additional sugar

SIMPLE SYRUP In a small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil, let simmer for a minute until the sugar dissolves. Cool completely. Makes about 1-1/3 cups.

SOAK CRANBERRIES In a bowl with room for stirring (I use a four-cup glass measuring cup), combine cranberries and 1/2 cup simple syrup. Refrigerate for 24 - 48 hours, stirring occasionally. Transfer the cranberries/simple syrup to a fine-meshed sieve, drain off and discard the simple syrup.

SUGAR THE CRANBERRIES Pile some sugar in a small shallow bowl, add more as needed. Roll the sticky cranberries in the sugar to coat, it's easiest with your fingers, one by one. Arrange the berries on a rimmed baking sheet, they shouldn't touch. Let dry at room temperature for a few hours, they'll crisp right up.

SAVOR Once dry, store the Sugared Cranberries in the fridge in an airtight glass container, if only because they're quite pretty. Use them up within a few days.

ALANNA's TIPS Simple syrup is handy to have on hand for impromptu cocktails, adding a touch of sugar to tomato sauce, etc. Since it keeps in the fridge for weeks, I always make enough to fill a squeeze bottle, extra easy to use! I half hoped that the sugar syrup would take on a little cranberry sourness or color: no such luck. Guess that means my next trick is a cranberry simple syrup! Now that my cranberries are all tucked away, I'm seeing that others first sprinkle their berries with sugar, then roll them in sugar – and swear by those two thin layers. Next time!

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Quarter Cup: 86 Calories; 0g Tot Fat; 0g Sat Fat; 0mg Cholesterol; 0mg Sodium; 22g Carb; 1g Fiber; 21g Sugar; 0g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 1.5 & PointsPlus 2

Ever Bite Into a Raw Cranberry? You Will Now!

Sugared Cranberries ♥, big payoff for little effort, a rush of sweet and sour, wet and dry.

Crazy for Cranberry

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Gingerbread Pudding Cake

Who else grew up with that old-fashioned brownie pudding cake, those magical layers of warm chocolate cake on top and warm chocolate pudding below? This is that cake except – be still, my beating heart – it's gingerbread.

Gingerbread Pudding Cake ♥, layers of cake and pudding. It's magic!

Yes, you read it right. Gingerbread Pudding Cake. Warm gingerbread cake on top and warm gingerbread pudding underneath. It brings silence to tables. It causes grown men to groan. It makes up in minutes and while humble in appearance, is a stunning company dessert during the holidays.

Or you know, for two, enjoyed in companionable silence before a blazing fire, watching the twinkle of lights on the Christmas tree ... or after a glass or two of something bubbly on New Years Eve.


Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Time to table: 70 minutes
Enough for an 11x7 baking dish, serving 8

  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 192g
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick or 114g) salted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup (300g) molasses
  • 1 cup cold water

  • 1/2 cup (100g) brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups very hot (near boiling) water
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 55g) salted butter

  • Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream

Heat oven to 350F/180C. Locate an oven-safe baking dish about 11x7, no need to spray it.

DRY INGREDIENTS In a bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients.

WET INGREDIENTS In a bowl large enough to hold everything, use an electric mixer to combine the butter, sugar and egg, mixing until creamy. Mix in the molasses and water.

With a spatula, stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, just until combined. Pour into the baking dish, it'll be quite liquid, don't worry!

TOPPING Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly across the top of the batter but do not mix in. In a liquid measuring cup, mix the hot water and 4 tablespoons butter together until the butter melts, pour it over the brown sugar but again, don't mix it in! This is key!

BAKE uncovered for 40 to 50 minutes until the top is crispy and the cake has turned into, well, cake and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (In my oven, I start checking at 35 minutes but 45 minutes is just about perfect.) Let cool for about 10 minutes.

TO SERVE Serve hot from the oven with scoops of ice cream or dollops of whipped cream.

MAKE-AHEAD TIPS I always-always set this up ahead of time, an assembly line of bowls left out on the counter for a couple of hours, then combine it all in the baking dish at the last minute, right before we sit down to dinner. That way, it's ready to serve after dinner, hot out of the oven. So so good! This is my assembly line: the dry ingredients; the wet ingredients (already mixed); the brown sugar topping; the water and butter in a liquid measuring cup ready for the microwave.

ALANNA's TIPS Check your molasses bottle, a whole cup is a whole lot of molasses! I've used mild molasses but I've also mixed 1/3 cup blackstrap with 2/3 cup mild molasses. Molasses lovers, you'll love this extra-molasses-y Gingerbread Pudding Cake. The color is so-so black! I'm just figuring this out, I think if you use cold water with the wet ingredients, the top turns out quite crackly, very cool. If you use hot water with the wet ingredients, the top turns out softer, more like typical fresh gingerbread. Five times I've made this, just figured this out. (I think!)

SCALING THE RECIPE UP AND DOWN Interested in other pan sizes? Here's some guidelines, all it takes is a little math, calculating the area of pans!
An 8x8 pan will work but since it has a smaller surface area, will take longer to bake.
For a 9x13 pan, increase the recipe by half. What's that math? Take the specified amount, multiply by 1.5.
To halve the recipe for fewer servings, use a loaf pan, one typically used for baking bread, that's 4x8. (It's okay to use a whole egg, it works fine.) Please know, this is an excellent trick for halving recipes that fit 8x8 pans. I learned it from the lovely Dessert for Two. She's brilliant!

MORE PUDDING CAKE? I must have a "thing" for pudding cake! This Lemon Pudding Cake was my favorite as a little girl, must make again asap! Last spring, I made a pudding cake with rhubarb, it's here, Rhubarb Pudding Cake.

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Serving: 402 Calories; 17g Tot Fat; 11g Sat Fat; 72mg Cholesterol; 373mg Sodium; 61g Carb; 0g Fiber; 47g Sugar; 2g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 9 & PointsPlus 11 (yep, total indulgence, and worth it) Believe it or not, this recipe has been "Alanna-sized" with reductions in sugar and flour.
Adapted from Land O Lakes.

Mild or Blackstrap Molasses?

Gingerbread Pudding Cake ♥, layers of cake and pudding. It's magic!

As you'd expect, using blackstrap molasses results in an extra molasses-y Gingerbread Pudding Cake. Here I've used 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses with 2/3 cup mild molasses. Just look how black that gingerbread is!

Molasses Lovers! I've Got Your Back!

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Molasses Cookies Chocolate Ginger Crinkle Cookies Frosty Christmas Trees
Gingerbread Muffins Fresh Cranberry Bars Cranberry Pudding with Butter Sauce
~ more recipes with molasses~

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