01 February 2011

Shortbread, Now Entering Beta Phase

Knowing I had an evening of nerds planned for tonight and only a few hours last night to whip something up, I went with shortbread. The host of the evening is a ginger fanatic, to say the least, so the natural topping seemed to be ginger. Got home too late to go shopping, but I had candied ginger lying around. Doesn't quite match the triple threat of his candied/dried/fresh ginger cookies but it will do the trick.
What you see here are the finished bites - basic shortbread, topped with a small piece of candied ginger and a light sprinkle of crushed black pepper and sea salt. You can't quite make out the salt in this picture; a coarser grind would have been both more delicious and more visually appealing. The salt and pepper form an X, but these are meant to be eaten in one bite so the unequal covering won't matter. You can actually see it clearly in the pre-baked shot which is both better post-processed (thanks Picasa!) and a better angle.
I think my alpha batches have been serviceable, maybe even sometimes delicious, but this new beta phase is miles above the previous batches. It might be the flavoring. it might be the thin-ness, or it might even be the prep method. But because I wasn't experimenting I changed far too many factors to really know. Maybe it was just a combination of all of the things I've done before (350 degree oven, 20 minute cook time, no funny flours, very thin for ultimate crisp).
Ginger and Pepper Shortbreads (makes 15-ish bite-sized shortbreads, feel free to double/quadruple recipe for a "normal" batch)
  • 8 tbsp (1/2 c) flour [unbleached all-purpose or pastry flour]
  • 4 tbsp (1/4 c) butter, frozen
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar
  • Candied ginger
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
Grate the butter into a mixing bowl (I'm trying this because it worked so well in the biscuits) and add in the sugar. Mix with a fork until it the sugar is incorporated. Add in flour and whisk to distribute the ingredients. Usually, the butter is beaten and everything incorporates easily. However, with frozen butter, that won't happen without either a liquid (currently banned from my shortbreads) or some pressure. So, after ingredients are evenly distributed, get in there with your hands and squeeze the dough until it all forms into a ball.

On a lightly-floured cutting board, roll out the dough into a rectangle or square. It should be very thin - slightly thinner than a #2 pencil. Use a metal spatula to square off the edges. Transfer dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and, with the spatula, cut most of the way through the dough to form a square grid - you can cut all the way through, but half is enough. It will break apart easily after cooking.

In each square, push a piece of candied ginger into the dough so that it forms an indentation. Hopefully this is enough to get it to set. Sprinkle a cross of black pepper from one corner to the other of each square, and a sprinkle of salt perpendicular to that. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees and place the cooking sheet in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Remove the chilled-again tray and place in oven for 10 minutes, rotate, and cook for 10 minutes more. Let cool. Eat one to make sure they are good, then break the grid apart completely so it isn't obvious you ate one before bringing it over to a friends place.

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