Tartine’s Shortbread

I’ve lost count of the number of shortbread and sable recipes palling around on the Misanthropic Hostess.

I think shortbread has become my holy grail. Such a simple cookie.  And, probably because of this, so easy to get “not quite right.”

This recipe comes from the first Tartine cookbook.  I bought the book for the famed bakery’s laminated dough recipe.  But, like a moth to the flame, this, not their croissants was the first recipe I tried.

And, it does not disappoint. It’s crisp yet tender, light yet sings of butter.   In fact, of all the recipes I’ve tried over the years, this one comes the closest to, what I’m beginning to suspect is an imagined shortbread ideal.

Shortbread

Tartine

Ingredients

  • 1 C + 1 TBS (9 oz, 255 g) unsalted high-quality butter, very soft
  • 1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt (TMH uses kosher)
  • 1 3/4 + 2 TBS (9 oz, 255 g) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 C + 2TBS (2 2/3 oz, 75g) cornstarch
  • 1/3 C (2 1/2 oz, 70g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 C superfine or granulated sugar for topping

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Butter a 6X10 or 8X8 glass baking dish.
  2. Place butter (should be the consistency of mayonnaise) in a mixing bowl.  Add-in salt and mix well with a wooden spoon.
  3. Add granulated sugar until just combined.
  4. Sift-in flour and cornstarch.  Mix only until a smooth dough forms.
  5. Pat the dough evenly into the prepped baking dish.
  6. Bake until the top and bottom are light brown, about 30 minutes though it took about 40 in my oven.
  7. Let cool on a wire rack just until the shortbread is warm.  Do not allow to cool completely.
  8. Sprinkle the shortbread with superfine sugar.  Tilt the dish so that the sugar coats the entire surface evenly, top out the excess sugar.
  9. With a thin, sharp knife, cut shortbread into fingers or squares.
  10. Chill completely before removing the squares from the pan.
  11. Will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

 

Second Tuesday tally

858

…this isn’t counting the toffee, a late swap-in for the bad caramel juju I had going on.  I’ll figure out how to count this at the end…but for reference, there are currently six, one-gallon bags of it sitting on our piano.

I have now entered the “what was I thinking” portion of this regime.  It happens every year and I liken it to when I used to swim the 1,000 .  Every time I’d pass the 350 mark…when the adrenaline of the start had worn off but there were many flip-turns to go I’d always wonder…what the hell am I doing?  Of course, if I made good time (for me), the whole thing was over in about 11 minutes.  Holiday bake-a-palooza takes significantly more time though is no less athletic.  At least I can listen to podcasts as I bake.  When I swam I used to sing REM’s End of the World over and over.

It’s all about the crust, ’bout the crust not the filling. It’s all about the crust, ’bout the crust…

Well, the filling is important too.  But in this post, just in time for Thanksgiving, we’re focusing on crust.

And a song that has been stuck in my head for weeks.

The following things top my list of fears: sharks, bears, spiders, making pie crust and fake hair pieces (don’t ask).  If I were ever to get caught in the storyline of Stephen King’s It, the fear scenario would include me in a mall with hundreds of those hair-piece kiosks while being chased by a bear toward a fountain filled with sharks as I tried to make a pie crust.  I don’t know where the spiders would fit in but they’d be there.

I’m proud to say that over the summer I conquered one of those fears.  And it isn’t the one about the fake hair.

During baking class we spent a week on pie crusts.  While we’d already learned the important “cutting-in” technique that combines the butter into the flour (snapping the butter and flour with your finger-tips), it was the discussion of pie-crust philosophy that helped make things click in my brain.

Butter is good for flavor.  Shortening or other 100% based solid fat is good for flakiness.

The deal with butter is that it isn’t 100% fat.  It also contains water.  Generally speaking, the higher quality the butter, the lower the water percentage.  Water plus gluten (by way of flour) equals chew.  So the goal with pie crust is to optimize both flavor and flake.

Which is where the vodka comes in.  And, I don’t just mean the cocktail I suggest you drink while making pie crust.  I’d heard about people who incorporated vodka into their pie dough and asked about it in class.  The instructor explained that the alcohol works as a sort of drying agent and the vodka is tasteless when it bakes-off.  So, the theory is that by replacing some or all of the water in a recipe with vodka the flakiness of the dough is potentially heightened.

This, I had to try.  I  replaced half of the water with vodka.  And went 100% butter.

The results of the trial were successful.  Always one to follow the scientific method,  I tried it several more times across the summer, all with consistently flakey and tasty crust.

Even the next day.

The other thing that has helped to eliminate my fear of pie crust is that I’ve gotten over whatever prejudice I had in my head about using the food processor to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.  Pie crust is pretty easy by hand.  It’s a snap with a food processor.

So my friends, do not fear those holiday pies!

Soundtrack: Do I really need to spell it out?

Pie Crust

adapted from Cooks Illustrated

this makes a double crust

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2  (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 20 TBS (1 pound 4 ounces or 5 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen
  • 1/4 C (2 ounces) vodka, chilled (I keep a bottle in the freezer for this and the impromptu Moscow Mule)
  • 1/4 C ice water

Directions

  1. Process flour, sugar and salt in food processor until combined.  If you decide to go old school and do this by hand, whisk together ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Scatter butter in processor bowl and pulse  until butter cuts-in and is reduced to pea-to-lima bean size.  You want visible pieces of butter.  If doing by hand, using the tips of your fingers only, snap the butter into the flour, shaking the bowl every once in a while so that the larger pieces rise to the top.
  3. Sprinkle-in all of the vodka and half of the water, pulse so that the dough starts to come together.  If the dough is dry, add-in the remaining water one TBS at-a-time until the dough barely holds together–it’s okay if you have crumbly pieces you don’t want an actual dough.  If doing by hand, sprinkle vodka and half the water over the flour-butter mixture and, using clean hands, gather the dough together, working gently adding in the remaining water as needed.
  4. Whether working by hand or processor, dump dough out on to a floured surface.  Split it in half and  push each half into a 4-inch disk (still okay, in fact it’s good if the dough barely holds together.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour before rolling-out and proceeding with your pie.

 

 

 

 

Make yo’ jack-o-lantern proud

Research tells us that smell is one of the strongest memory evokers.  One example of this for me is the shampoo and beauty aisle in the grocery store.  Every time I walk by the end-cap I get hit with the almost memory of shopping with my mom as a small child at the local Alpha Beta.

The smell of the spices in pumpkin bread is another one in my nostalgia rolodex.  As a kid, my family spent many summers camping in the Sierras and throughout the Pacific Northwest.  In preparation for these trips, my mom would make (what seemed like) endless loaves of pumpkin and banana breads to sustain us on the road.  To this day, the smell of pumpkin bread reminds me of cold mornings on picnic benches waiting for the sun to crest the mountains as the smell of coffee percolating (in a real percolator) on the Coleman stove slowly filled the air.

It doesn’t matter that I don’t really like pumpkin bread.  Or banana bread.  The idea of it always makes me happy.

I needed something to take to a morning committee meeting in early October (I’ve talked about how I sometimes have to incentivize my committees before) and in coming up with ideas it occurred to me that the Misanthropic Hostess was lacking a pumpkin bread recipe.

Never able to leave a good recipe alone, I realized that pumpkin is an excellent backdrop to a host of flavors.  In this iteration I added toasted coconut and dried cranberries to one loaf and white chocolate chips to the other.  Nuts are also an obvious addition here but the receiving committee has a couple of members with nut allergies and the last thing I want on my employment record is murder via baked good.  Bright citrus zest or a sweet carmel sauce would also play nicely with pumpkin.

Want to win some goodies?  Go here and make your guess in my annual holiday bake-a-palooza contest.

Pumpkin Bread

adapted from Libby’s available at www.cooks.com

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. each nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 c. each granulated sugar and packed brown sugar
  • 1 c. oil
  • 1 15 ounce can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c. each dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, coconut….

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line and butter two 9 1/2 X 51/4 inch loaf pans (or something close to this size)
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Add the sugars, mixing well.
  3. Mix dry ingredients with the oil and pumpkin, stirring until well combined.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, blending thoroughly.
  5. Fold in fruits, nuts, chocolate.
  6. Pour into prepared pans.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
  8. Cool for 5 minutes. Remove from pans. Place on wire rack to cool.

 

 

Ya’ll ready for this?

Nope, it’s not the ultimate cheer.

It’s Misanthropic Hostess holiday baking!  And nothing says holiday baking better than a crappy shot of my freezer.

In this case, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

I officially kicked on my holiday baking on November first with eight batches of assorted sable dough.  While these babies were the first made, they’ll actually be the very last to be baked-off at the end of the month.

As the long time listeners know, I have a contest each year to make this month of madness a little more interesting.  The first year was about pounds of butter.  Last year was we did ounces of sugar.

This year: Total Units.

Here is how this will work.  You all have until midnight next Monday to guess the total number of cookies, candies etc that will be “delivered” as part of my holiday baking machine. We’re going with units delivered instead of units produced overall because while I try to be as efficient as possible I also always leave room from mess-ups, broken cookies etc in the overall totals.

Leave your best guess in the comments section of this post.  The winner will get an extra batch of their favorite treat–and yep, I’ll ship.  Each Tuesday I’ll provide an update of the running total.

To help you along, I’ll give you some hints:

  • I’m making 11 different kinds of goodies (the cut-out sugar cookies count as two because some get sanded while others get the royal icing treatment).
  • There are 40 recipients on the TMH list.  I admit, this is a bit misleading because a recipient can count as anything from an individual person to a family of seven to an entire department.
  • If my math is correct, this will require 40 total batches of the 11 different treats.
  • Based on my calculations I will use roughly 20 pounds of butter, 25 pounds of flour, 35 pounds of combined sugars and 15 pounds of assorted chocolate varieties.
  • The total unit calculations will not include any add-ons that aren’t part of the original plan.

In addition to regularly scheduled Thursday posts, each Tuesday I’ll update with a running total.  This number will be slightly off from the final (total produced versus total delivered) but will be a decent real-time estimate.  I’ll also be instagramming the good, the bad and the ugly if you want to follow along: #TMHostess

…and away we go!