Saturday, February 2, 2008

Sugar and Spice

Yes, it's yet another recipe with spices.  If you were just going by the posts I've written recently, you'd have no idea that I'm a serious chocoholic.  I have made a few chocolate things lately (like Brianna's birthday cake), but just haven't gotten as far as writing about them.  

This latest experiment started last weekend, when I needed to make something for our monthly dance (we're members of a local chapter of USA Dance).  Whenever possible, I try to bake something for the refreshments table.  While my chocolate offerings never go to waste, I've noticed that the non-chocolate ones tend to be very popular.  After discarding several other ideas, I decided to go with shortbread.

My usual shortbread recipe is one from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book that I've made many times.  I usually top it with a simple sugar glaze, since the cookies themselves aren't all that sweet.  I modified the recipe with the addition of chai spices--cinnamom, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and a bit of nutmeg.  I knew I wouldn't have time to glaze the cookies, so I opted for a crunchy topping of coarse sugar, added to the cookies before they went into the oven.  The end result was good, but I think I over-baked the cookies a bit--they were definitely brown around the edges, and not as tender as usual.  Not bad, but worth a bit more experimenting.

I decided to give these another go today, but figured I should only make half a batch, since they're just for us (and maybe a few for work).  I thought last time that it might be good to include a bit more sugar in the dough, so I went with half a cup of powdered sugar instead of one third.  I also kept a closer eye on the timing.  I think they turned out pretty good, but I'm curious to see if they improve a bit with age.

Spiced Shortbread (1/2 batch)
(adapted from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham)

For the dough:

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (2 oz) powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground cloves
pinch nutmeg
1 cup (4.5 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

For the optional glaze:

1/2 cup (2 oz) powdered sugar
2 tsp milk
1/4 tsp vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until it is smooth and creamy, then add the sugar and vanilla and beat well.  Add the salt and spices and mix until combined.  Add the flour and stir until the dough starts to come together in large clumps.  Form the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic wrap.  Chill 20-30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into rounds with a 2-inch cutter.  Reroll and cut the scraps until all the dough is used.  Place the cookies about 1 inch apart on the lined cookie sheet.  Prick each cookie several times with a fork and bake for about 14 minutes, or until they have barely colored around the edges.  Don't overbake; they should not brown.  Remove the cookies from the sheet and cool on a rack.

If desired, whisk together the 1/2 cup powdered sugar, milk and vanilla in a small bowl to form a thick glaze.  With the back of a spoon, spread the glaze on the cooled cookies and allow to dry.

Makes about 16-18 cookies.

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