Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Baking Lessons: Sweet and Savory Shortbreads

The last of my friend's zinnias - a gift to me for hosting.
It's been quite awhile since the last baking lesson from our English-trained-pastry-chef-friend Terry, so my friend, Candy, and I were really looking forward to our latest session.  And what a perfect day to spend baking in the kitchen - a crisp, blustery October day!  With the upcoming holidays, Terry decided to teach us one of her specialities - shortbread.  Oh, my.  I've tasted her shortbread before - last Christmas she gave me a plate of these crisp, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth delicacies which I inhaled rather quickly.  The recipe is very simple and contains the most basic of ingredients.  It also doesn't take long to mix up and bake - perfect for spur of the moment hospitality. 

(Because Terry was trained in Europe, she measures her ingredients out in ounces on a digital scale.  I've also included the approximate measurements in cups if you don't wish to use a scale - though I have to tell you that there is something distinctively fun about doing so!)

Shortbread fingers before being pricked and baked -
4 oz. flour (1 C.)
2 oz. cornstarch (scant 1/2 C.)
2 oz. sugar (1/4 C.)
1/8 tsp. salt
4 oz. cold butter, no substitutes (1stick)

Preheat oven to 325.  Put dry ingredients in bowl.  Cut butter into small pieces and add them to the bowl.  Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour mixture by running your hands through the  ingredients, lifting the flour mixture to aerate and rubbing in the butter pieces to incorporate for about 3 minutes.  When butter is all rubbed in and crumbs are formed and consistent, gather dough together with hands and press lightly into a ball.  Roll/press dough into a rectangle on a floured surface, 1/4 - 1/2" thick.  Cut into fingers (or shapes with cookie cutters).  Prick them through carefully severally times with a fork.  Bake approx. 15 minutes until a light golden "fawn" color.

Stilton &  Walnut Crackers
Terry also wanted to try out a new-to-her recipe that made a savory type of shortbread dough - Stilton & Walnut Crackers, a Barefoot Contessa recipe.  You can click here for the recipe for these very elegant and sophisticated crackers that we served with my humble, homemade vegetable soup!  A few notes about the crackers - we found that they were WAY too salty, so you might want to cut the salt some.  Also, Terry purchased Stilton cheese to try in the recipe since that's what it called for.  Stilton is a very strong cheese, so if you don't like a bleu cheese flavor, you might wish to substitute a sharp cheddar or other type to your liking.  Stilton is also very expensive which might be another reason to substitute.