My trusted former sous chef came to the rescue. With three weeks to go into my cleanse (am I boring you yet with this?) she called me from Babycakes, a vegan, sugar-free and dairy free bakery in downtown LA asking me if I knew about it. Yes I did know about it because it’s superfamous in NY, not to mention Madonna sang its praises when it first opened but I hadn’t realized it had a Los Angeles branch.
I asked the ‘Maine to bring me something back that could satisfy my stifled sweet tooth. My angel obliged and, as I write, the chocolate chip sandwich cookie has already been polished off and what appears to be a strawberry cupcake will be my dinner tonight. This should keep me happy for a while. I had already experimented with Erin McKenna’s recipes and I have to hand it to her – as vegan sweets go, hers are among the best. But not everyone has coconut oil, chickpea flour and agave syrup on hand, which brings me to shortbread. Huge platters of hazelnut shortbread were in the kitchen yesterday, ready for an exhibition opening, to be paired with Mexican Chocolate. Rolled in powder sugar, I had to quickly walk away in fear of breaking my vows. I love shortbread – possibly my favourite cookie ever. It’s impossible to screw it up and the only requirement is excellent butter, which is what makes shortbread well, good.
Typically shortbread describes a cookie made with 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour – nowadays we use wheat flour bur originally rice or oat flour were more common. Scottish shortbread, the triangular one, dates back to the 12th century but it became popular at the time of Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth 1st. See, not all English food is bad. Although any Scot will tell you that Scottish and English food developed separately, with the Scottish cuisine more influenced by the French – could it be that a Frenchman had a hand in the creation of haggis? Doubtful.
The following is a reworking of the basic shortbread dough. I usually scoop these cookies into balls and roll them in powder sugar after they are baked. Or you can roll the dough, prick it with a fork and cut it into wedges (if you are Scottish) or rectangles (if you are British).
RECIPE Yields approx 4 dozens
2 C All Purpose Flour
1 C Brown Sugar
3 T Cornstarch
1 T Espresso Powder
3/4 ts Salt
8 oz Butter, cold and cubed
1 ts Vanilla Extract
2/3 C Hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
Powder sugar for decorating
1. Using the paddle attachment in a standing mixer, mix flour, sugar, cornstarch, espresso powder and salt. Add butter and vanilla extract and keep on mixing on low until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add nuts and mix until dough just comes together.
2. Using a teaspoon or a small scooper, scoop the dough on a cookie sheet covered with parchment. Slightly flatten the cookies with the palm of your hands. Bake at 350F until golden brown – approx 10/15 mins depending on oven. Let cool and roll in powder sugar.