~ Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread ~
Shortbread. Melt-in-my-mouth, buttery-rich, slightly-salty and not-too-sweet, every bite of one of these humbly-crumbly understated cookies is akin to an extravagant indulgence -- the amuse bouche of the sweet treat kind. From one or two sitting atop a paper napkin next to a cup of caffeine, to hundreds piled high on shiny trays at a celebration, shortbread has earned its place on the table of any occasion. In my food world, every day and its accompanying problems has the potential to turn out ok, as long as there are a few shortbread to nibble on in the cookie jar.
A day w/shortbread in the cookie jar is a good day:
Throughout the United Kingdom, shortbread has been a tradition at tea time since medieval days. As the name implies, shortbread contains shortening in the the form of butter, plus sugar and flour -- more specifically, one part sugar, two parts butter, and, three parts white flour. After this super-easy to make dough is mixed together, it can be be baked in several forms. Many home cooks pat the dough into one or two flat, round discs that get cut into wedges as soon as they emerge from the oven. Most manufacturers bake it in rectangular molds then cut it into fingers. Because the dough holds shapes very well, it's ideal for either cut- or drop- cookies that can be patterned/decorated with the simple tines of a fork or an elaborate stamp. It's common for various extracts, citrus oils and/or aromatic spices to be used as subtle flavorings. In all cases, shortbread is baked in a moderate oven to render its signature pale ever-so-slightly brown color.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour + additional bench flour
1 cup finely-chopped candied pecans (from 4 ounces candied pecans)
1/2 cup English toffee bits
~Step. In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, egg and extract, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula during the process, about 1 minute. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually, in 3-4 increments, thoroughly incorporate the flour, about 2 minutes. Remove mixer. Using the spatula, fold the candied pecans and toffee bits into the cookie dough.
~Step 2. Ready a pastry board with some bench flour, then get out a rolling pin and a 2"-round cookie cutter. Line 3-4 large baking pans with parchment. With no need for exacting accuracy, divide dough into three parts and form each part into a disc shape. Sprinkle a bit of bench flour on the pastry board, place a disc of dough on top of the flour, sprinkle it with a bit of flour, then roll it to a thickness of about 3/8". Cut the dough into rounds. Place the rounds of dough about 1" apart on parchment-lined pan. Set the scraps of dough aside. Repeat this process with remaining two discs of dough, then, gather all the dough scraps together, form a fourth disc and repeat the process again, and again, using all dough.
~Step 3. Place one pan in the refrigerator for 18 minutes. Remove it from the refrigerator and place on center rack of 325° to bake for 18-20 minutes, until cookies are light golden on the bottoms and sides.* Remove from oven and cool on pan about 1-2 minutes. Using a thin spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely, 1-2 hours. Repeat this process until all cookies are baked. *Note: While one pan of cookies is baking, start chilling another one.
Make & bake a big batch & cool completely on a wire rack:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; pastry board; small rolling pin; 2"-round cookie cutter; 3-4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; thin metal spatula; wire cooling rack
Cook's Note: I developed a crush for English toffee in London the 1990's. There was a Confectioner across the street from our hotel and it was the first place I wandered into on my way to take a bus tour of the city. While the sweet treat in this photo is something that typically gets made around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, if you'd like to learn a bit more about English toffee, read my post ~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate & Almond Buttercrunch ~. My freezer is rarely without a bag of English toffee bits in it.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)