'Twas the night before Christmas and I thought shortbread was in order. Perhaps it was my mother's Scottish heritage kicking in, though I can't recall her ever making these dense, butter-rich cookies. She may even have served Walkers Shortbread in the trademark red plaid tin, but mostly she baked everything "with my own fair hands," as she liked to say, feeling embarrassed if she ever served anything that was store-bought.
I'd made a great shortbread recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Cheese Board Collective Works. It was for Hazelnut Shortbread, except that I used a mix of nuts, including hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and pecans. I loved the crunchy, buttery taste and decided to make it again, thinking I might wrap a few cookies to give to one of my neighbors, recently widowed, who was facing her first Christmas without her husband.
Unfortunately, I must have measured the butter wrong or put in too many nuts, because, even after working the dough more than usual and letting it sit overnight in the fridge, it simply wouldn't hold together when I tried to roll it out. My first thought was that I should discard the crumbly dough and start again, but that went against my frugal upbringing (yes, the thrifty Scot in me!). I decided to gently mix in a tablespoon or so of melted butter, press the dough into the bottom of the cookie sheet, spread a thin layer of raspberry jam thinned with a little orange juice and spiked with orange zest, and sprinkle with the remaining shortbread crumbs and chopped nuts. After baking, cooling and cutting into little rectangles, I was pleasantly surprised by the result--crisp, buttery, nutty and just a tad jammy, but not sticky. Perfect with a cup of English Breakfast tea while staring out the French double doors at another perfect Southern California winter day!
Nutty Shortbread With Raspberry Jam
Makes about 30 cookies
2/3 cup (about 11 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts or mixed nuts of your choice
1 to 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter (optional)
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1 to 2 tablespoons orange or lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
1/4 cup chopped toasted nuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
2. Cream butter and sugar in a mixer for about 4 minutes or by hand until light and fluffy.
3. Add 2 1/4 cups of flour on low speed or by hand until blended. I found this easier to do by hand. The recipe in The Cheese Board Collective Works suggests adding the remaining 1/4 cup flour a tablespoon at a time. By the time I added the first tablespoon, the dough was so crumbly, I didn't add any more.
4. Stir in the nuts until incorporated, taking care not to overwork the dough.
5. At this point, you have completed all the steps for The Cheese Board recipe. If your dough is holding together well, you could make shortbread by rolling it out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/2 inch, cutting into 2 1/2-inch squares--or whatever shapes you wish--and transferring with a lightly floured spatula to the prepared pan, placing the cookies at least one inch apart, and then following the baking directions in Step 11 (below). If you want to make the raspberry version, read on.
6. If your dough is fairly crumbly, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons additional melted butter, using a light touch.
7. Lightly press the dough into the bottom of the cookie sheet using a light touch and trying to maintain a thickness of 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the dough.
8. Mix 1/2 cup raspberry jam with orange or lemon juice and zest, using enough juice to thin the raspberry jam to spreadable consistency.
9. Using a spatula or pastry or silicone brush, spread a thin layer of jam on top of the shortbread crust, making sure the jam reaches to the edges and is evenly spread.
10. Mix remaining shortbread dough with 1/4 cup nuts, sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle lightly over the top of the jam.
11. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the shortbread cookies (if you stopped at Step 5) are a light golden brown, or (if you made the jam version) the crumbs are a lightly browned. Let cool completely on the baking sheets on wire racks. Stored in an airtight container, these cookies keep for a week or more and should be good candidates for shipping.
Happy New Year, world! Wishing everyone the best ever 2014!