Shortbread cookies have unique texture, and are surprisingly addictive. This version, flavored with tea and a touch of orange extract, followed the basic method from Helen Fletcher, described in her cookbook: Craving Cookies, The Quintessential American Cookie Book. The food processor makes perfect shortbread dough every single time.
EARL GREY SHORTBREAD COOKIES (inspired by several sources)
4 bags of Earl Grey tea (about 8g tea, I used decaf) 310 g all purpose flour 48 g cornstarch 1/2 tsp salt 227 g butter, very cold, cut into pieces 115 g powdered sugar 1/2 tsp orange extract
Heat the oven to 275 F.
Add tea, flour, cornstarch and salt to the food processor and process a few seconds to mix. Add the butter, process until it is dispersed in small pieces, stop the processor, add the powdered sugar and orange extract, and process it again until a dough forms. You can turn the processor on and off a few times for more efficient mixing. Once the dough starts to form and dance around the bowl, stop and gather it gently with your hands, forming a disc over parchment paper.
If you worked fast, you can proceed right away forming balls, each with 33g of dough. If the dough it too soft or feels at all warm, place it in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.
Working with one little ball at a time, press a design using your favorite cookie press coated with flour so it won’t stick. Freeze the cookies for 10 minutes, then bake at 275F for about 50 minutes over parchment paper. Let the cookies cool for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.
Comments: Shortbread is perfect for pressing a pattern or using decorative molds, as there is no leavening agent in the dough. Freezing is an additional step that helps the pattern stay even better during baking. As to the low temperature, 275 F gives shortbread a wonderful texture. I saw that recommended in a couple of websites and cookbooks and gave it a try in this bake. Loved it. If you are not pressed for time, consider this little twist. I baked them for 55 minutes exactly, the edges were starting to get golden.
Nut allergies. They prevent a human being from enjoying one of the most beloved cookies in the known universe. Such cruel fate. But this recipe uses sunflower seeds instead of almonds and I can tell you the outcome is quite amazing. The batter is slightly more grainy, but the macs baked with very nice feet and good texture. Please use caster sugar (super fine). It does make a difference, particularly in this version.
NUT-FREE LADY GREY MACARONS (from the Bewitching Kitchen)
For the shells: 200g powdered sugar 115 g sunflower seed meal (or finely ground sunflower seeds) 115 g egg whites at room temperature (approx. 4 eggs) 1/8 tsp of cream of tartar (optional) 100 g caster sugar (or regular sugar made finer in a food processor) ¼ tsp vanilla paste or extract Americolor food gel Super Black Americolor food gel Fog Americolor food gel Tulip Red Royal Icing, thick consistency
for filling: 1/4 cup butter 170g powdered sugar 1/2 cup milk 1 bag Lady Grey tea chai extract (optional, I used Olive Nation)
Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment/baking paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar and sunflower seed meal in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 12 pulses. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl or to a sheet of parchment/baking paper. Set aside.
Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.
Slowly rain in the granulated sugar in five additions, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme. Add the vanilla. Whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.
Fold in the sunflower seed mixture in two increments. When the mixture is more or less homogeneous (but before you smash it to deflate it), separate a very small amount of batter into a bowl and add black food gel to it. Proceed to fully mix it (macaronage step), and place it in a small piping bag, no need to use icing tip. Reserve. Go back to the main mixture and add a few drops of fog gel color to it. Paint the mixture halfway up the side of the bowl, using the flat side of a spatula. Scrape the mixture down to the center of the bowl. Repeat two or three times, then check to see if the mixture slides slowly down the side of the bowl. Put the mixture in a piping bag fitted with your choice of piping tip (round, ¼ or ½ inch in diameter or 6 – 12 mm). Pipe shells, I like to count numbers in my head and use the same count for each shell so they end up similar in size. After piping 5 or 6 shells, get the piping bag containing the black batter and make a cut. Pipe dots all over the shells.
Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter/worktop. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. In a dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.
While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide or move (independently of the ‘feet’ when you gently twist the top), then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Check one or two. If they move when gently touched, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes until they don’t move when touched. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. The macarons should release without sticking.
Make the filling: Infuse the milk with the bag of tea for 15 min. Remove the bag, squeezing it well to release all the tea flavor into the milk. Let it cool. Whisk the room temperature butter with a handheld mixer until creamy. Add the powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of infused milk (you won’t need it all) and chai extract (if using). Whisk for a couple of minutes. Adjust consistency with more infused milk or powdered sugar, if needed.
Assemble the macarons: find two macarons similar in size and add a good amount of filling to the bottom of one of them. Place the other on top and squeeze gently to take the filling all the way to the edge. Store in the fridge for 24 hours for perfect texture.
To decorate: pipe hearts with Royal icing dyed red. Use a black food pen to smooth the edges of the black dots, if needed, and a red pen to draw the edge of the heart (optional).
Comments: I’ve made macarons last Summer using a little bit of sunflower seed for flavor, but this time I replaced the full amount of almond flour with sunflower seed meal (I used this product instead of grinding the seeds myself). The batter was slightly harder to mix (the macaronage stage), and had a slightly denser structure, but I was surprised by how tall the feet were during baking (they always deflate a bit as they cool).
A few words on the decoration. Because the batter turned out a bit on the thick side, the dots I made with black batter were not perfectly round, and many ended up with ragged edges. So I smoothed things out with a black food pen after baking, which I also used to make the little dots all over. The heart was piped with Royal Icing, thick consistency (like you would use for transfers), because it gives the hearts a plump look that I find pretty attractive. I also used a red food pen to trace the edge, but that step can be omitted, I don’t think it added that much to the whole design.
I really enjoyed the flavor of the tea-chai-buttercream. If you brew the tea strong enough, it will have enough flavor but using chai extract is definitely a nice touch. I love Olive Nation products, and was searching for an opportunity to put my chai extract to use. This basic decoration design will come back in the future. Different colors, piping different shapes, I have a few ideas brewing. Or, should I say… macaroning?