September 6, 2010

Toasted Almond Shortbread Cookies

We LOVE toasted almonds - so much that on our countertop, where we keep little IKEA jars full of grains and things that we use frequently and keep on hand constantly, like lentils, rice, oats, and quinoa, there is a spot for toasted almonds. Recently we've been putting them in salads (last night with arugula, goat cheese, and nectarines - yum), and they're also a good snack all by themselves. The flavor goes well with sweet or savory, and we've been wanting to create some kind of cookie with them for a while. We finally got around to trying these shortbread cookies, which are adapted from a pecan shortbread cookie recipe from The Craft of Baking. And oh, they are good! They're buttery and crisp and not too sweet, but with a wonderful layer of caramelized sugar around the outside and almond toastiness throughout. I can't believe we've never made shortbread before, but now that we've been introduced to the world of shortbread I have a feeling it will be appearing frequently in our kitchen.

This recipe has a couple of specialty ingredients that you may not have just sitting around in your pantry: vanilla beans and Demerara sugar. This was the first time we had used vanilla beans, and we were lucky because our friend Rebecca, who is an avid baker, had bought a few of them, then decided to move to the Netherlands for graduate school. She wasn't planning to bring all the contents of her pantry with her, and (fortunately for us) thought that we might be able to take good care of the vanilla beans. They were kind of fun to use - you split the bean open and then scrape out a sort of moist powder, which is the vanilla seed and which creates the little black flecks you see in certain vanilla flavored items. If you don't have vanilla beans, though, just add half a teaspoon more vanilla extract.

We did a little bit of sugar research to find out about Demerara sugar, and what we learned was interesting. Molasses is a byproduct of the production of white sugar, but do you know what brown sugar is? It's sugar that has had the molasses removed (part of the refining process to make white sugar), then added back in. Demerara sugar (as well as Sugar in the Raw or turbinado sugar) is the "real" thing - sugar with the molasses still in it, without having gone through the extra step of removing it, then adding it back in. So, brown sugar has gone through two extra steps, but for some reason is less expensive. Anyway, the Demerara sugar has large crystals and a more complex flavor, so it's nice on the outside of these cookies, but you could substitute turbinado sugar or white sugar (brown sugar might not work as well since it's so fine and moist).

Almond Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Karen DeMasco and Mindy Fox, The Craft of Baking

- 3/4 cup slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
- sea salt
- 10 tbsp butter (1 and 1/4 sticks), at room temperature
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, plus a little bit for rolling
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
- 3 tbsp Demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and bake until they are a deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. You can tell they're done because they will begin to be extremely fragrant. Remove the almonds from the oven, sprinkle with the sea salt, and let cool before using.
Beat the butter and confectioners' sugar together with the vanilla seeds, vanilla extract, and salt until smooth. Add the flour in three stages, mixing well each time, and then stir in the toasted almonds. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and roll it into a log about 1 and 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in parchment paper and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour so that it's firm enough to slice.
When you're nearly ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the log from the refrigerator and let it soften just a couple of minutes. Coat the dough with the egg yolk and then roll it in the Demerara sugar until you have a nice coating on the outside. Slice the log into rounds about 1/2 inch thick, place them on the baking sheets about an inch apart, and bake until the cookies are slightly golden (25 - 30 minutes).
The color of the cookies won't change very much; you can tell they're done because they will start to smell very fragrant and the bottoms will be golden brown (you could scoop one up and peek if you're not sure).

3 comments:

  1. Those look fantastic. The sugar on the outside reminds me of my favorite cookie recipe:
    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Anise-Scented-Fig-and-Date-Swirls-105930

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  2. Seeing this recipe reminded me I said I;d send you a savory shortbread recipe so here goes.


    Rosemary Shortbread Recipe

    Ingredients:

    2 cups flour
    2 sticks softened butter
    1 tablespoon powdered sugar
    ¾ cup grate parmesan
    1 sprig fresh rosemary finely chopped (more if preferred, which I do)

    1 or 2 teaspoons cold water as needed

    Mix ingredients together then shape into a log using plastic wrap. Tighten ends and chill in refrigerator about an hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice and put on cookie sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes until edges are golden.

    It’s also fun to add other savory elements, or try different cheeses to make little appetizers (slivers of sun dried tomatoes, or kalimata olives, or jalapenos work particularly well to add a little zing.) If you use a less salty cheese than parmesan add a pinch or so of salt to balance the flavors.

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  3. Thanks Cari and Pauline! Both recipes sound good and the idea of savory shortbread is intriguing. For years the only cookies we ever made were chocolate chip...who knew there was a whole other world of tasty cookies?

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