It’s been a while, I know, but I promise there’s a really good reason for the radio silence. As of a couple weeks ago, I’m working full-time as a baker! It’s pretty incredible. I spend my days making pies and ice cream and now also some savory things like veggie burgers and mayo. (So much mayo. Remember how much I love making it at home? Well, now I make it by the gallon.) I still can’t quite believe it’s real, especially when I catch myself singing along to Billy Joel as I roll out pie crust and realize that this is my job. How cool is that?
Also it’s been birthday season around here for quite a few people, which means that cakes have happened and have been amazing and will soon be appearing here. Promise. For today, though, it’s a teaser: this shortbread cookie, though amazing on its own, is even better when it’s part of one of those birthday cakes.
Shortbread cookie in a cake. It’s real.
But that’s later. For now, just bake yourself a practice batch of these deliciously buttery, crumbly little beauties–they’re totally worth it on their own.
De-flouring your cookies
Yes, we’re talking about gluten again. Look, there’s only so much we can do with a cookie that traditionally only has three ingredients—flour, butter, and sugar. This is another case of trying to minimize gluten development to keep the final product crumbly instead of tough, like when we were making pie dough. This time we take an almost-too-obvious route: to reduce gluten development, just reduce the amount of gluten. Instead of just flour, we use it in combination with both ground oats and cornstarch. Both of these starchy powders will help absorb the liquid in the dough and hold it together without making it chewy.
Think of starch and gluten as radiatore pasta and spaghetti, respectively. Radiatore noodles are basically little spheres, very self-contained, while a plate of spaghetti gets all tangled up together. When you’re baking, small, roundish starch molecules absorb water and expand in the oven (like the radiatore noodles when you boil them), creating a solid pastry by pressing together. But like a mass of radiatore simply held together by pressure, it’s not very stable and will crumble apart easily. That’s where the gluten comes in. Gluten molecules are long and sticky, creating a network of strands that stabilize whatever you’re baking. The trick with something like shortbread is a mix of the two: starch to keep it crumbly with just enough gluten to hold it together, like a bowl of mixed noodles.
Brown sugar shortbread
This recipe uses both a food processor and a stand mixer. I know, who has time for that many dishes? But here’s the thing: grinding the oats and brown sugar gives you both a super-fine texture and amazing flavor, and the stand mixer makes it easier to mix the dough for the several minutes it takes to come together. You could use oat flour and powdered sugar to skip the food processor, but you won’t get the extra flavor dimension from the brown sugar.
Yield: 16 cookies
½ c. old-fashioned oats
2/3 c. brown sugar
1 ½ c. flour
¼ c. cornstarch
½ t. salt
14 T. butter, cold
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Process the oats and brown sugar in a food processor until both are finely ground, about 15 seconds. Pour the oat and sugar mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix briefly to combine.
Chop the butter into about 1/8 inch slices. Add butter to the mixer bowl and mix on low speed until the dough comes together, about 5 minutes.
Place the ring of a cheesecake pan upside down on a cookie sheet. Press the dough in an even layer inside the closed ring, then open it and leave it on the tray. Using the rim of a large glass, cut out and remove a circle from the middle of the dough. Both of these steps allow the dough to expand slightly while baking, and the ring will prevent the dough from spreading and becoming too thin at the edges. Cook the circle of dough alongside the ring.
Place the shortbread in the oven and immediately turn down the temperature to 250. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges are turning golden brown and the cookie feels firm. Remove the cookies from the oven, leaving them in the ring. Cut the cookies into 16 pieces and use a fork to poke holes halfway through each. Place the cookies back in the cooling oven to dry, propping the door open slightly with a wooden spoon. After an hour, remove the cookies and re-cut them. Dip them in chocolate, enjoy them with tea, or just eat them up by themselves!