She made red velvet…shortbread that is

homie failIn a continuing effort to educate all comers, I share useful information I’ve learned, and conversely, offer myself up as a horrific, terrifying cautionary tale.  So, this anecdote of mystery and invention would have been shared, regardless the outcome.

I’ve previously written about the woefully underdeveloped and overly discriminating sweet tooth possessed by The Kid.  There are only two items always on the child’s dessert list; red velvet cake, and buttery, sandy, not too sweet shortbread.

I know from shortbread, and have a recipe my child loves.

Red velvet though, creeps me out.  There’s something about adding an entire bottle of red food coloring that’s just all kinds of wrong.  Plus, as any frosting connoisseur knows, red tastes awful.But, The Kid loves it

So, I decided to find a recipe for red velvet shortbread and make a batch for under the Christmas tree.  There was only one problem.

There was no recipe for red velvet shortbread—anywhere.  As far as I can tell, it didn’t exist.

So, I decided to invent it.  And I had to work around some non-negotiable criteria, and some pretty complicated baking-related restrictions.

Traditional shortbread is flour, butter, and a small amount of sugar.  There are no eggs, no leavening, and no liquid other than a bit of extract. shortbreadRed velvet is made with the afore-mentioned bottle of food coloring for color and buttermilk for tang.  If I added these ingredients, it would be too wet and no longer shortbread.

What to do?

For color, I used a small amount of gel food coloring as well as Hershey’s dark cocoa.  For acidic buttermilk, I substituted a bit of apple cider vinegar.

A baking god.

I mixed, said a quick prayer to the baking gods, and slid it into the oven.

When it came out, the burnished brick color had deepened to the familiar red velvet hue.

After it cooled there was a taste/texture test.  It had a mouth-feel like shortbread and seemed to taste like red velvet.  I put it in a big jar with a pretty ribbon and waited for The Kid’s discerning palate and final verdict.

The Kid’s Red Velvet Shortbreadred velvet shortbread

1 & 1/3 cups softened brown butter

2/3 cup sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon red gel food coloring

3 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons whisked together with 2 tablespoons Hershey’s Dark Cocoa

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 275. Butter 9X13 baking pan, and line bottom and two sides with parchment paper, leaving enough to use as handles when removing shortbread from pan.

Brown butter: Melt butter and cook until dark amber-brown and nutty-smelling.  Allow to cool to softened-butter stage.  Make sure to use all the browned bits—this is where the flavor is.

Cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add salt, vanilla, and red food coloring.  Beat to combine.  Add flour and cocoa, 1 cup at a time, beating until just combined.

Press dough into prepared pan, smoothing top. Cut dough all the way through lengthwise into nine strips. Cut strips crosswise into four pieces for a total of 36 bars, or fingers. Then pierce each piece with five holes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABake shortbread until color’s deepened and just set, 70-85 minutes. Sit pan on wire rack to cool completely. Turn shortbread out of pan, and carefully coax pieces apart with serrated knife. Store in airtight container.

It was a Christmas miracle—The Kid loved it.  And quickly informed me that I had to write a column about it.

That was already the plan; no matter what.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThanks for your time.

 

 

Mad about plaid

Lemme tell you a little story.I really dislike coconut.  The flavor is actually okay, especially in piña coladas made even more decadent with lots of ice cream.  For me it’s a texture thing.  The Kid, however, has no such exceptions.  Coconut is dietary anathema.  It does not pass my child’s lips in any form.

Because of our animus, coconut has never had a place in my kitchen.

Petey eats it, but Petey is one of the least picky humans I know.  I’d always thought it was one more food that he could take or leave, but would eat if placed before him.

But a while back, after close to three decades of matrimony, I discovered something that I never knew about my better half—the man loves coconut.His favorite dessert has to be coconut cake, with many layers, lots of pastry cream filling and tons of 7-minute frosting.  And each component jam-packed with sweet, white shreds of coconut.  The man has a sweet tooth.  As do I.

Not so with The Kid, probably because in our house, sweets are not forbidden fruit, and I think this easy access produced an almost non-existent desire for most things sugary.The Kid does though, have a big crush on shortbread.  Walker’s, the brand with the red plaid boxes are a special favorite.  Last year I made some for the child’s stocking.  That recipe was okay, but wasn’t as rich and buttery as Walker’s.

I wanted to make something a Walker’s devotee might mistake for their more famous shortbread cousin.  Last night I made another batch with a new recipe.

It’s based on a Martha Stewart recipe.  And in the making of it, I picked up a couple of tricks that will vastly improve your final product.Before baking, I cut the 9 X 13 pan of cookies into 40 pieces.  There were ten on the short side and four on the long; long rectangles which are called ‘fingers’.

I created these using my straight metal dough scraper, cutting all the way to the bottom.  Then I used a toothpick to place five neat holes down the length of each piece.  After they baked, I let them cool completely in the pan before turning them out.  I then used a serrated knife to convince them to break off cleanly.

And, as with any simple recipe with few ingredients, use the best quality you can swing.  It will make a difference.

Martha Stewart’s Walker-style shortbreadmartha-shortbread1 1/3 cups (2 sticks plus 6 tablespoons) butter, room temperature, plus more for pans

2/3 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-by-1-inch baking pan, and line bottom with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and vanilla, and beat to combine. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed until just combined.

Press dough into prepared pan, leveling and smoothing the top.

Bake shortbread until evenly pale golden, but not browned, 70 to 85 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. Invert pan, and remove parchment.

shortbread

The Kid’s Christmas shortbread.

When completely cooled turn shortbread out of pan, score cuts with a serrated knife, and carefully break into bars.  Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

I planned to flavor the shortbread with lemon zest and nutmeg.  But I discovered something else about my child.

Like a classic Chanel suit, The Kid likes it best simple and unadorned.In the case of shortbread, less is most definitely more.

Thanks for your time.

A rye smile

After inhabiting this planet for more than half a century, I have ceased to be embarrassed by the fact that I have the type of sweet tooth that if I let myself, would make it perfectly feasible for me to eat an entire box of Dolly Madison vanilla zingers.Honestly, I’m not exaggerating.  One of my very favorite foods is birthday cake.  And when I say cake, I mean cake only in the sense that it is the scaffolding for mounds of delicious, delicious frosting.

But I am also a bit of a paradox inside a contradiction stuffed in a jelly donut.

I can’t abide a grain of sugar in my iced tea, I order my lattes half sweet, and I like my soft drinks lots more fizzy than syrupy.

Did you notice she has monkeys on her dress?

So, I guess those bi-polar taste buds are the reason why I really enjoy this new treat I discovered last week.

The Kid and I spent the day in Raleigh.  We visited the NC Museum of Art to check out the Da Vinci and Escher shows, and headed over to our favorite capitol city bakery, Boulted (614 W South St, Raleigh).  My child was Jonesing for some of their seeded levain; a crusty, sour loaf perfect for lashings of cultured European butter.  I snagged a bagel-like bialy for breakfast, then spied something called rye shortbread.

We added it to our order.

As soon as we got back to the car, I took a bite of my shortbread.  I was totally expecting a salty, rye/caraway-flavored buttery cracker.  What I got was something entirely different.  It was a lightly sweetened, pecan-studded cookie with the acidic kick of rye.

Once I got over the surprise, I took another bite.  And found that I really enjoyed it.  It would be the perfect thing to accompany a really thick, rich cup of hot chocolate.

I did a little research, and a little experimenting, and came up with this recipe.

Rye-Pecan shortbread

rye shortbread

1½ cups rye flour

½ cup finely chopped toasted pecans

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup butter (softened)

¼ cup Granulated Sugar

3 tablespoons honey

Whisk together flour, pecans, salt and baking powder.  Set aside.

Cream the butter, sugar and honey until just incorporated.

Add the sifted dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix on low until it all comes together, but no longer (there’s gluten in rye flour, and you don’t want it to develop).

Roll the dough to ½-inch thick (if the dough is too soft to roll, shape into a disk or rectangle, wrap in plastic and chill until firm). After rolling, cut into bars, circles or desired shape. Cover and chill until hard; 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place cookies on prepared pan and sprinkle with sugar and more pecans, if desired. Dock the center of each cookie with a fork.  Bake until edges are lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Cool and store, wrapped, at room temperature for up to 1 week.

This recipe makes approximately 20 cookies.

I’m not saying I would regularly pick this cookie over a heavily decorated cupcake, or a Krispy Kreme donut fresh from its honey glazed shower, but this shortbread gets my full confectionary seal of approval.  This new treat definitely has a spot in my rotation.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly feel the urgent need to see if there is a flashing “Hot” sign anywhere in the vicinity.

Thanks for your time.

Worth it, salt

“But it wears out the pasta pots!”
That was the Newtonian-level reasoning behind Olive Garden’s policy of cooking pasta in unsalted water.
Wait, what!?!

I ate there once.

An Italian restaurant chain, with much ballyhooed Italian-trained chefs, doesn’t salt the pasta water. That’s the foundation. After neglecting this basic, basic step, all that follows will not make up for it. You get one chance to get flavor into the pasta–one. If you’re afraid of pitting your pots, add the salt to water after it comes to a boil, and you’ll be safe.
And a pinch or a teaspoon ain’t gonna cut it. Salt your pasta water with wild, shameless abandon. Chef Anne Burrel has an awesome phrase for how much to use. She says the water should be “shockingly salty”.

Anne Burrel. I’m convinced that hairdo involves sorcery. Or buckets of product.

Seriously, think ocean.

All of your food should be salted while cooking as well. The difference between unseasoned and well-seasoned food is vast.

It’s embarrassing, but I enjoy too much salt. As a child, I held a very strange belief. I knew that pepper made food hot. I decided that salt was the opposite of pepper. So, salt must make food cold (I told you it was strange). Since I like my food considerably cooler than piping hot, I heavily salted my food, which in my mind, cooled it off. Thus I developed a taste for saltiness.

Because of this foible, when I started cooking, I was afraid of over-salting. Consequently, I under-seasoned everything.

Now I taste as I go along. Most foods don’t need a blizzard of salt. But some ingredients need more. Acid, avocado, and red meats are a few. Fried foods need more. It doesn’t take much salt to satisfy Petey, but he always salts his fries.
Desserts need salt too. It perks up the rest of the ingredients, like a twinkle in the eye. And lately, many confections are based on the interplay between salty and sweet. The Kid and I have one dessert that although tricky to prepare, rewards you with rapture.OMG Salted Caramel Short Bread
Shortbread
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup corn starch
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing it to drape over 2 sides.
Whip butter until fluffy. Mix in confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and flour. Beat on low until combined, then on high for 3 to 4 minutes. Press dough into pan.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until lightly golden. Let cool.
When the shortbread comes out of the oven, begin making caramel.
Caramel
½ cup sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ cup water
1 ½ cups heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a deep saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden brown color. No stirring; just swirl pan, otherwise it could seize up and turn into a giant crystal. Don’t rush this–it can burn in seconds and you’ll have to start over.
In a separate pan, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon salt to simmer on medium. Remove from the heat, set aside.
When the caramel is light amber, slowly whisk cream mixture into the caramel–use caution; it will boil up volcanically. Stir in vanilla and cook over medium-low to 248 degrees. When it’s close (243-ish), turn down burner, and coast to final temp for more control.
Immediately pour over shortbread, allow to set, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Lift the parchment out of pan. Cut into 1×2 inch pieces with large, sharp knife.

The shortbread is easy-peasy, and can be eaten alone or flavored (Kate Middleton loves lavender shortbread). But carefully follow the caramel instructions. A few degrees off and you’ll have runny caramel sauce, or break a tooth on it.


I invite you to take everything I ever say with a grain of salt. But please, add about a million more to it and put them in your pasta water—every single time.
Thanks for you time.