Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Zebras are Out! - Eight Layer Shortbread Cookies

We're reaching the end of November, and fast approaching Christmas. One constant in our family is the almost obscene amount of baking we do. Cookies, cookies and more cookies! Here is one recipe that is a "must make" every year.

Everyone’s Christmas favorite
2 ¼ cups flour
½ cup cornstarch
1 ¼ cups butter, room temp
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 egg white, whisked

Sift flour and cornstarch together and set aside. Beat butter and sugar in a bowl until blended. Add vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture to make a soft dough. Divide in half. Knead cocoa powder into half the dough, adding a tablespoon of butter if necessary to keep from being too crumbly. Flatten both doughs and wrap separately in waxed paper, then chill at least an hour. Roll each batch of dough between two sheets of waxed paper into an EXACT 10” square. (Make a 10” square cardboard template for this) Push dough sides in to make absolutely even using the blade of a chef knife or wide long spatula. If dough gets too soft or sticky, refrigerate on a cookie sheet for a half hour and resume. Remove top sheet of waxed paper from the vanilla dough. Brush top with the egg white. Remove waxed paper from the chocolate dough, and brush top with egg white. Let stand a few minutes to set egg white. Invert the chocolate dough onto the vanilla dough, matching up the sides exactly. Cut into 4 EQUAL 10” X 2 ½” strips. Brush with egg white. Stack dough strips neatly to make eight alternating layers. Wrap each stack in plastic wrap and chill several hours, up to one week.

To bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice dough with a very sharp knife while dough is very cold into 1/8’ thick slices and transfer onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, until set and slightly pale golden at edges. Transfer to a rack to cool. Store in tins a cool, dry place up to a week.

Makes about 5 dozen shortbread

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wednesday: Deja Vu

While I was growing up in northwestern Pennsylvania, the neighbor behind us owned the lot beside ours, where he grew a fence row of concord grapes. The grapes would set on the vine early in the summer, the tiny pea-green pearl clusters growing ever-larger by the week, until the abundance of warm rains and summer sun would coax them into first blushing rose, then purple, then blue-black in early September. But they were far from ripe, and it wouldn't be until late September or early October, when the first frost kissed the earth, that the grapes were sweet enough to eat. When that happened, my neighborhood pals and I would raid the vines, sitting beneath the leafy canopies, inhaling the rich fragrance of the then-sweet grapes, plucking them one by one and eating them until we were sated. It was the highlight of our year, always, and we gorged ourselves sick every time. Then we'd go back for more the next day. And the next day. Until the vines were picked clean by the neighbor, who transformed them into jelly in small glass jars sealed with paraffin wax.

While grocery shopping the other day, I was startled to see concord grapes offered in a clear plastic clamshell, priced at the outrageous sum of $4.99 for the pound container. But how often have I seen these AT ALL since my childhood? Not very often. In fact, I bet fewer than ten times in the last forty years. Of course I reached for a container. Once home, I rinsed them well and settled them on a plate, allowing their distinctive rich aroma to bloom and fill the room over a period of a couple of days. Yesterday I couldn't wait another second, and, like the day after those first frosts, I sat and plucked the grapes, one by one, savoring their rich dusky taste and recalling the pleasant Indian Summer days as a kid doing the same thing. A small container of grapes is merely a tease. But the memory it called up has lasted decades.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Saturday: Moments of Claire-ity

Last Saturday, Claire was tinkering around the kitchen and wound up making dinner in the end. We had a lot of basil just waiting to be picked, lots of tomatoes that needed to be used, and a box of fettucine with her name on it. Her creation wasn't just any dinner, but a fragrant, lovely garlic-cream-olive-and-basil infused pasta sauce over fettucine. What a lovely surprise, complete with a pretty presentation. Just had to take a picture of it; it was almost too pretty to eat.