Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lavender-Lemon Shortbread

I wanted cookies and found this recipe from last year's L.A. Times cookie contest that I had never made.  Good enough.

If you have a food processor, this recipe comes together in just a couple of minutes.  Then you chill it and bake as desired.  If all you have is a blender or coffee grinder, there will be some manual labor involved.  Maybe five more minutes than the food processor version.

The difference between a "cookie" and a "shortbread" is one egg.  With the egg as a binder, it's a cookie.  Without, it's flavored pie crust and known as shortbread for the high proportion of fat that shortens the gluten strands.  Yes, that's what "shortening" means when you talk about Crisco.  It's the fact that fat creates a barrier around flour grains, preventing long glutens from forming.  This does not mean a product is gluten-free, merely that the protein of gluten is deterred from creating long strands.  This is why cookies and cakes crumble, while long-strand products like bread do not.

My batch of shortbreads got very dark on the bottom.  The most likely cause was cutting them too thick.  I only got 15, and didn't feel like re-rolling and re-chilling the log.  Another possible cause was putting them on a dark sheet pan.  I also get better results when I use the silpat.  Then there's the possibility of my oven being a bit hot.  Whatever I did, they did not taste burnt.  They smell like lavender and have a distinct lemon tang.  Not bad for a few minutes' work.

*1 tsp dried lavender
1/3 C sugar
1-1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (either use a micro-planer or chop up regular zest)
1 C flour
pinch of salt
1/2 C (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1-3 tsp lemon juice

1.  With the food processor running, drop lavender through the tube.  The reason for this technique is that the blade will sit above the buds if you put them in first and nothing will happen.  Doing it while the machine is running will keep them moving until they are pulverized.  Trickle in sugar and lemon zest, then pulse until combined.  If you let it run, the sugar will turn into powdered sugar and escape.  Add salt and flour and pulse to combine.

2.  Add butter and pulse until the big chunks are gone.  Add lemon juice half a teaspoon at a time and pulse between additions.  You know you have enough when it starts to clump.  I did this on a dry day, and it took a full tablespoon.

3.  Roll dough into a log about 10" long and wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper.  Chill 1 hour in the fridge for immediate use, or place wrapped roll in a ziplock baggie for freezer storage until needed.  Just thaw for about 30 minutes before using.

4.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Slice log crosswise into 1/2" pieces and arrange on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake until edges are golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Cool on a rack and serve.

Makes 20

Difficulty rating  π

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