Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Orange Vanilla Shortbread Cookies

When I was a child, the first cookie of this type was a Lorna Doone by Nabisco, introduced in 1912. No one, even at Nabisco, is quite sure of exactly how the name was chosen. It is surmised it was named after a British novel Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore’s lead character, Lorna Doone who was Scottish. The origin of shortbread was considered Scottish. (ref. ) The Lorna Doone cookie was harder than this recipe, which practically falls apart in your mouth. My sister and I used to soak them in milk a few seconds. One does not have to entice a child to a shortbread cookie.

Shortbread is a Scottish treat and often traditional Christmas cookie. Shortbreads are not overly sweet. They have few ingredients and produce a delicious rich, biscuit like cookie. Everyone makes these a bit different. This recipe is especially tender, buttery, and richly flavored. The Lorna Doone cookie is not quite as sweet. You can cut back the butter, vanilla and the sugar in this recipe for a result more like Nabisco’s  cookie.

Shortbread lends it self to toppings which can include almost anything like sugars, dried fruit, chocolate, ground nuts like pecans or almonds and may be flavored with extracts to liqueurs. I often use a little orange extract. If adding other flavors or spices, cut back on the vanilla.

Baking temperature vary recipe to recipe from 375 F to 300 F. Here again are some pros and cons. The slower the cookie cooks, the more control you have on the degree of browning. Most cooks want this cookie just at the pale brown. The browning that forms the magical caramelization effect (Maillard reaction) that happens to toast, French fries, etc. occurs best at 309 F and higher. Therefore, we bake this cookie starting the oven at 325 F then come down from there for the best of both worlds, caramelization of sugar and a toasting.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Cookies will be cooked slowly, so as not to become excessively brown. The cookie dough is easy to prepare in a mixer using the paddle attachment. These are traditional shortbread butter cookies. It is very easy to get great results. My favorite variation to this recipe includes other flavored extracts like orange, lemon, or almond.
2 sticks Danish unsalted sweet butter or other quality butter2
1/2 cup white sugar + more for dusting top
1 ½~2 teaspoons bourbon vanilla (see about vanilla)
1 tablespoon of zest orange rind, minced fine
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cup of King Arthur all purpose flour, shifted
1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional for tenderness)

Cut butter into patties to speed up softening. When butter is slightly soft, process on low until creamy then gradually add in the sugar. Increase speed to medium in well incorporated. Beat well in the orange jest, and vanilla. Combine flour, tablespoon cornstarch (optionally) and salt and sift the mixture. Once sifted, turn mixer to low, and add 1 tablespoon of dry ingredients at a time until all of it has been incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl then increase speed to medium and beat well. Feel the dough. If too sticky, beat in an additional tablespoon(s) of flour. Press dough into a ball. Press dough in a sheet pan lined with parchment paper1. Cover dough with another sheet of parchment paper. Roll the dough to about ¼ thick and evenly as possible so it cooks uniformly. Pull off top sheet of parchment paper back on itself at a sharp angle but slowly so it does not lift the dough. Smooth any ragged edges push these back on to the rest of the dough. Try to keep the cookie dough from the edge of the pan as the dough will expand slightly as it cooks. Sprinkle top of dough with a little extra granulated, Demerara or Turbinado sugar

Place sheet pan in center of oven, reduce oven heat to 300 F and bake for 40~55 minutes or until light brown all over. Cut cookies into rectangles with a sharp knife while hot from oven. Cool 10 minutes in pan; and, while still warm, separate on cookie racks. Best served while still slightly warm.

  1. Trim parchment paper to fit the pan then butter its backside to make it stay put.
  2. Butter is the primary flavor in this cookie hence getting a good one involves making a good choice. Unsalted butter has a shorter shelf-life than salted butter and less yet if it comes paper wrapped. Check butter for its expiration date. From America’s test kitchen: “Culturing, or fermenting cream before churning it into butter, is standard practice in Europe and builds tangy, complex flavors that our tasters almost unanimously preferred in both plain and cooked applications. The only domestic cultured sample earned praise for its “slight cheesy tang” and “super-creamy” consistency that baked up “short,” “crisp” cookies. But the cream of the crop, according to tasters, hails from the old country and is owned and operated by the Danish Dairy Board, which churns out butter so “silky,” “nutty,” and “rich” that one taster called it “darn near perfect.” Lurpak ® is a Trademark of the Danish Dairy Board

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