My love affair with shortbread began seven years ago with my first bite of a homemade heart-shaped cookie that melted in my mouth. Rich, buttery dough had been packed into cast-iron heart-shaped molds and baked until they were set but not brown.
The cookies had been made by my daughter-in-law's family using a recipe provided by their good friend, Laura. They were prepared just in time to be served at the reception that would rejoice the marriage of my younger son and his new wife.
For me, shortbread is not just a delicate dessert to lust over; it is a reminiscence of a celebration of love.
Since that first bite, I've discovered shortbread is ridiculously simple to make. Traditional shortbread is created with just three ingredients: butter, flour and sugar. I've added a little bit of salt and lots of pure vanilla. Because much of the flavor of shortbread comes from butter, it's important to use it. Don't be tempted to use margarine or shortening. Use butter - the real deal. You'll be so glad you did.
After a brief chilling, the dough can be rolled and cut into shapes. Or it can be patted into a tart pan or round baking pan and baked. I was visiting with cookbook author Jill O'Connor a couple of weeks ago about a picture of some cookies shaped like spoons that she had on a promotional piece for her book, "Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth." She said she used a cookie cutter shaped like a spoon. Her food stylists, though, had cut the spoons freehand for the promotional photo. I decided to give it a try by tracing around some spoons from my kitchen drawer. I used two sizes, both made for children's hands. Full sized teaspoons are a little too big for delicate and crumbly shortbread cookies. The tip of a paring knife was my tool for cutting the dough around the spoon.
I love the combination of shortbread and lemon curd. These sweet little spoons needed something to hold. On a recent trip to Portland, Ore., I attended a cooking class taught by Nitockrees (Nito) Tadros Carpita, owner of Seasons of Provence Cooking School in France. I've always thought my lemon curd recipe was the best, but you are going to love Nito's recipe. No double boilers, no curdling and no straining necessary. Just a few minutes of your undivided attention with some vigorous whisk work will give you bright and tart lemon curd.
Shortbread Spoons can be served with hot fudge sundaes, chocolate fondue or, for an easy and elegant dessert, with small scoops of Nutella and whipped cream for dipping. Remember the Pots de Crème recipe I shared with you a few weeks ago? Shortbread Spoons are the perfect pairing.
Shortbread dough is just right for children to help make, as it is most tender when mixed with fingers and hands. After the dough has been chilled and rolled out, trace your child's hand into the dough. When baked, it is a delightful gift for mom or grandma on Mother's Day.
A slight twist to Laura's shortbread recipe, an inspiration for cookie spoons from Jill O'Connor and French-style lemon curd from Nito equals sweet and bright buttery confection. You'll fall in love with Shortbread Spoons of Lemon Curd and Cream. And, you'll want to serve them at your next brunch or dinner party.
Shortbread Spoons of Lemon Curd and Cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar, unsifted
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons superfine sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup whipping cream, whipped
Fresh berries of choice, for garnish
Fresh mint, for garnish
Make shortbread spoons by combining powdered sugar, flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut 1 cup butter into small chunks. Add the butter chunks to the mixing bowl. Use a pastry cutter or an electric hand mixer to blend the ingredients until they become crumbly. Add vanilla extract and blend just until mixture comes together. Finish gathering dough with your fingers. Form a disk with the dough, wrap with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
While dough is chilling, make Lemon Curd. Cut 6 tablespoons butter into small chunks. Set aside. Whisk superfine sugar and eggs until light in a 2 1/2-quart saucepan. Add grated zest and lemon juice. Whisk briskly by hand over medium-low heat, adding pieces of butter, one at a time, making sure the butter is melted before each addition. When mixture comes to a boiling point and just begins to bubble, it will be thickened, similar to the consistency of pudding. Remove from heat and let cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll out shortbread dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut around a spoon with the tip of a paring knife to form cookies. Carefully transfer to baking sheet. Depending on size of cookies, it will take about 8 minutes of baking time. Cookies should be light brown on the edges and pale on top. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes. Use a metal spatula to transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
At serving time, pipe or spoon lemon curd onto each cookie. Garnish with whipped cream, a berry and a mint leaf.
Tips from the cook
--Find superfine sugar near the regular sugar in the grocery store. It is sometimes labeled caster sugar. Superfine sugar dissolves quickly in iced tea, homemade lemonade and on fresh fruit - a nice addition to the summer pantry.
--Grate the zest, the thin colored layer of the lemon's skin, then cut the lemon in half and juice it. You will probably need two lemons to yield the ¼ cup of juice required for this recipe.
--Lemon Curd can be made up to a week ahead of time. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator.
--Shortbread Spoons can be made up to a month ahead of time. Store in a tightly sealed plastic container or tin in the freezer.