Friday, December 6, 2013

Almond Toffee Shortbread

Shortbread is one of the most simple and satisfying cookies to bake.  There are precious few ingredients and the long slow bake ensures that its basic simplicity shines with lots of buttery flavor and tender crumbs.  I don’t know anyone who would turn up their nose at an offering of shortbread.

Although shortbread dates back to the 12th century and Mary Queen of Scots was greatly enamored of shortbread in the 16th century, it only first appeared in a Scottish cookbook in the mid-18th century.  

Since fat is the enemy of gluten, shortbread cookies are extremely tender because the abundance of butter shortens the strands of gluten.  This recipe for shortbread also has some sliced almonds and coarsely chopped Heath Bar added to the mix.  I don’t usually bake with candy but it’s hard to argue with the perfection of toffee and chocolate.

There are a few different ways to make shortbread.  The usual way to mix the dough is to cream room temperature butter with sugar and then add the dry ingredients.  Another way is to melt the butter, then stir in the sugar and the dry ingredients.  I’m using the food processor method where the dry ingredients are blended and then cold butter is cut in.  All of these methods produce great shortbread, so choose the one with which you feel most comfortable.

For more simple and fun recipes that will diversify your pastry repertoire, pick up my ecookbook, The Global Pastry Table, which has some great recipes that are sure to get you into the spirit of the season.  In particular, there are 22 cookie recipes perfect for holiday sharing, like:

Spice Route Cookies, my version of Pfefferneuse
beautiful and festive Florentines
Chocolate Walnut Financiers that melt in your mouth
Orange & Chocolate Macaroons for coconut lovers

There are mouth-watering cakes and tarts that will light up your celebrations and bring sighs of comfort and joy:

Rum Cake with Spiced Butter Rum Glaze for all you budding pirates
Gingerbread Cake, light and full of warm spice
easy and luxurious Chocolate Nut Tart
My take on Sachertorte

There are also fabulous brunch pastries to serve family and friends on holiday mornings:
Vanilla Custard in Phyllo, an incredible Greek morning pastry
Babka with cinnamon, chocolate and streusel topping

…and a whole lot more.  There is nothing like the aroma of freshly baked pastry to fill your home, any day of the year.

The Global Pastry Table also makes a welcome Christmas gift for the bakers in your life.  It’s available for the iPad, Kindle and your PC or Mac desktop or laptop computer.   My recipes are intended to inspire delicious journeys into the traditions and rituals of fresh and easy pastries and desserts.  Cheers!

Bench notes:
- Cut the butter into 1/2” pieces and place in the refrigerator until it's time to add it.
- The shortbread dough will be lumpy and should hold together when pinched.
- Just to clarify, if you use the creaming method, cream the butter and both sugars until blended, then add the vanilla.  Whisk the flour and salt together and add, mixing just until it starts to come together.  Add the almonds and the chopped Heath Bar and mix until thoroughly combined.  For the melted butter method, add both sugars and vanilla to the cooled melted butter and then add the flour and salt.  Fold in the almonds and chopped Heath Bar.
- If you use the method with melted butter, let the mixture rest for a couple of hours in the refrigerator before baking so the butter is absorbed.
- I use the bottom of a measuring cup to press gently into the surface to smooth out my finger impressions.
- Glass conducts heat more efficiently than metal, so if you’re using a glass baking pan, lower the baking temperature to 300 degrees and keep a close eye on baking time.
- If you happen to under bake the shortbread, cut into pieces and toast in the oven for an additional few minutes.
- Scoring the shortbread when it comes out of the oven and cutting into pieces with a very sharp knife while it is still warm will give you nice clean slices instead of jagged shards.
- Store the cooled shortbread in an airtight container.  It will keep for several days.
- Add a tablespoon of rum or a pinch of cinnamon for variation.  

Almond Toffee Shortbread
Makes 18 2" x 1" pieces

1 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons (6 3/4 oz) flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (39 grams) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon salt
6 oz (12 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into 1/2” pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) sliced almonds
1/4 cup (1 1/4 oz) coarsely chopped Heath Bar

raw turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Lightly grease an 8” x 8” baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2” overhang on two sides.

Place the flour, both sugars and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend.  Add the butter and vanilla and process just until it looks like it’s going to clump.  Add the almonds and the chopped Heath Bar and process until the dough starts to clump together.  Place the dough in the prepared baking pan and press evenly.  Sprinkle with raw turbinado sugar and press gently into the surface.

Bake the shortbread until a light golden brown, about 55 – 60 minutes.  Place on a wire rack.  Score the surface of the shortbread into 18 portions using the tip of a knife.  Cool for 10 minutes, then gently remove from the pan using the parchment overhang to assist.  Use a sharp chef’s knife to slice into pieces, wiping the blade clean after each cut.  Cool completely.  

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