Monday, March 12, 2012

Herbed Infused Shortbread Recipe for The Creative Nine to Fivers

by Jessica S. Herwick

I know that for many of us, there’s just never enough time in a day, or in a week for that matter.  If I could, I would spend most of my waking hours tending to my herb garden and playing in the kitchen.  Of course, like most of you out there, I seldom find the time for these sorts of things, but I try. I’ve been known to use most any special occasion as an excuse to clear an afternoon and bake something out of the ordinary.  My motto: Try to make time.  And when I can’t, I make these cookies. You can make them in thirty-minute phases, prepare the dough days in advance and then refrigerate until you’re ready bake.  You can use a whole slew of herbs, fresh or dried, in various combinations and it’s quite easy to dress them for practically any event - office party, family reunion, pot-luck or book club. 

Convinced? Follow the basic recipe below, using simple ingredients, referring to the Variation Recommendations at the bottom of the recipe for a list of herbs you can infuse, and other tricks, to make distinctly different cookies every time you bake.  I prefer to use fresh herbs from my garden or local co-op.  If you are unfamiliar with using herbs in baking recipes, I recommend trying Rosemary, Thyme or Lavender for your first batch. If you don’t have the luxury of an herb garden, most of the recommended herbs (fresh or dried) can be found prepackaged for your convenience at your local grocery store. Guaranteed to impress and leave your friends, relatives, or co-workers wondering what you put in those fabulous cookies … and where you found the time to bake such gourmet treats!

Basic Herb Infused Shortbread Recipe (produces 24 cookies)

8 oz (2 sticks) butter
5 tbs. fresh herb of choice or 3 tbs. dry herb
(Photo examples feature Rosemary)
½ cup sugar
2 cups flour

** small food processor or scissors
    needed to chop fresh herbs. **

Preparations (butter and herb infused sugar)

·      Begin by softening your butter. Remove it from the fridge and place in a space at room temperature to soften (about 15 minutes). 

·      Prepare the Infused Sugar – using the sugar and herbs called for in the ingredients.

PREPARE DRIED HERB INFUSED SUGAR by crushing dried leaves of herb and discarding stems or seeds (if your dried herbs are pre-packaged, they may already be crushed and de-seeded).  Combine the ½ cup sugar with the 3 Tbs. of the dried, crushed leaves (if pre-packaged herbs are crushed to a powder-like consistency, add 2 Tbs. or the herb taste will be very strong).

PREPARE FRESH HERB INFUSED SUGAR by rinsing and drying your herb sprigs.  Remove the leaves for use (set stems and seeds aside for other projects).  When leaves are completely dry, measure out 5 Tbs. of lightly packed herb leaves and combine with the ½ cup sugar in a food processor.  Blend until leaves are fully chopped to a fine consistency and sticking lightly to the sugar (the fresh herbs release oils that will cause subtle moisture as they break down).

To Make the Dough
·      Combine 8 oz. butter and ½ cup infused sugar. Mix to a smooth consistency with no large lumps.
     *Hint: Use a large fork or a wooden spoon to push the butter into the sugar until it forms.  Don’t be afraid to use your hands.  They are warm and will help to melt the butter, making it easier to combine with the sugar. 
·      Add 2 cups of flour and mix until the dough becomes lumpy (Photo A) then smooth and consistent (Photo B).  Use fork, wooden spoon or hands.  I find the most success using a spoon to start and then finish using my hands.
                                           Photo A
Photo B


·   Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a solid, rectangular block  (roughly 12”x9”x1/4”) with no cracks.
Photo C
     *Hint: Use wax paper to easily shape the dough.  Roll dough into a long snake and lay on wax paper.  Fold wax paper around dough and push the edges against the table, shaping the dough inside the wax paper into a rectangle and smoothing out the cracks. (See Photo C)
      ·  Wrap rectangle completely in wax paper and tape edges closed.
Photo D

·      Refrigerate for 1 hour to 36 hours.  If refrigerating for more than a few hours before baking, wrap the wax papered dough in plastic wrap or store in a sealable sandwich bag (to retain moisture).
·      Remove dough from refrigerator just before you are going to cut and bake.  The colder it is, the easier to slice, but don’t let the dough dry out!

To Bake
·      Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Oil your cookie sheets.
·      Remove dough from refrigerator and unwrap.
·   Place on a cutting board and slice rectangular pieces about ¼ to ½ inch thick. (See Photo E)
·      Place cookies on cookie sheet about ¾ inch apart.  Cookies will not change shape much in the oven. (See Photo F)
Photo F
Photo E
·      Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the tops of the cookie begin to turn a
sandy color.  This happens quickly. Cookies must be removed or they will burn shortly after
the color begins to change, so keep your eye on the cookies during the last five minutes of bake
·      Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool for about 5 minutes before removing from
sheet.  BEWARE! Cookies will be soft until they cool.
·      Use a spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheet and
allow to completely cool on a plate or cooling rack.  Store in an airtight bag or container.

Variation Recommendations
Herbs to try in this recipe:
Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme, Sage, Peppermint.

Try the following herb combinations for a slightly different taste –
Rosemary and Thyme or Lemon Thyme
Lavender and Lemon Balm
Sage and Bee Balm (Bergamot)

Combine/Chop 3 Tbs. Anise seeds in food processor with the ½ cup sugar in place of infused herb sugar.

Combine/Chop ½ cup of ground pecans and 3 Tbs. of cinnamon with the ½ cup sugar in a food processor instead of infused herb sugar. 

To Dress the Cookies
Try dipping your herb infused cookies in chocolate:
Buy Bakers Chocolate already prepared to melt down at the grocery store and follow directions on package, or combine one bag (16oz.) of dark chocolate chips with 1 Tbs. Olive Oil and heat slowly in a pot on the stove, stirring frequently.  When chocolate is completely melted, remove from heat.  Dip one end of the cookie into the chocolate, or paint one side of the cookie with melted chocolate and lay on wax paper to dry.   
* Especially delicious with peppermint infused cookies!

If using fresh herbs, set aside a few whole sprigs or whole leaves and press into the cookie before baking, or press fresh leaves into chocolate if you are dipping your cookies.  You can do the same with flowers, if your herb is in bloom.

Sprinkle colored sugar onto the cookies before baking. 

Cookie dough can be rolled flat and cut using any shape cookie cutter!  If making cookies to be cut into shapes, I recommend doubling the recipe, since cookie cutters make slightly larger cookies than the standard, small, rectangular shortbread cookie shape.

If you’ve used this recipe, or have a cool variation, share it with us by commenting on this blog!  
Additional ideas welcome!

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