World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: RTW Cookies

The Baker’s Passport – Scotland

                   Shortbreadjpg

Christmas is here. Or so every commercial entity would have you believe. On November 1st I saw the first Christmas tree in the lobby of a movie theater in the City. Really could we at least let the Halloween candy digest? But what it does make me think about is buttery, crisp and crumbly shortbread. To me it is a purely seasonal cookie.

Walkers_petticoat_2 My go-to is the popular export from Scotland, Walkers. While the bars and circle shaped biscuits are popular the long-standing petticoat tails has long been been a curiosity.  While Mary Queen of Scots was fond of these and there’s a long history between the Scotland and France  one version says the name comes from the French petit gatelles meaning little cakes; it is generally thought that the name has its origin in the shape, which is similiar to that of the bell-hoop petticoats worn by women in the nineteenth century courts.

Originating from the oatmeal bannock that was served at pagan Yule time celebrations,  the round bannock was often scored in the center with a circle surrounded by wedges symbolizing the sun and its rays. This practice most likely originating from the Scottish New Year’s event called, Hogmanay. This shortbread varies in that it is often larger and a little thicker and decorated with candied citron peel and some almond comfits. In the Shetland and Orkney Islands it is found as Bride’s Bonn and has caraway seeds. Another bit of folklore and the superstitious share that shortbread was not cut into portions but rather broken into pieces by hand. Today we’re less bound by these traditions and find them in many shapes and sizes.

Needless to say many of us eat shortbread year round as it’s a perfect pairing with tea, coffee or hot cocoa. While many recipes are handed down within families the secret to many a baker’s prized recipe is simplicity. By seeking out simple, high quality ingredients and a very short ingredient list at that the cookie essentials shine. Recipes vary with an increase of the ratio of flour to powdered sugar and in some the the addition of corn starch or vanilla. The texture of shortbread in the following recipe can be altered by replacing 1/4 cup of the flour with rice flour giving them a more crunchy texture. Or, if you prefer a more delicate tasting shortbread that melts-in-your-mouth, replace 1/2 cup of the flour with cornstarch.

Once you have this recipe in your repertoire you can move on to Millionaire’s Shortbread which is like an uptown Twix Bar.

Simple Shortbread

Traditional shortbread recipes don’t usually add salt but do use salted butter it enhances the overall taste.

1 cup softened butter

½ cup powdered sugar

2 cups flour

Pinch of Salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat butter and sugar together in a large bowl.

Stir in flour and salt. Mix with hands until smooth.

Spray a 9-inch fluted tart pan or a 9" square pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Press dough into pan. Using the tines of a fork, score dough from the edge of the circle in the center towards the edge of the pan into 12 equal wedges or squares (depending on type of pan you are using.

Bake the shortbread in the middle of the oven 25 minutes or until slightly brown around edges.

Remove from oven. Immediately cut into squares/wedges with a sharp knife

Cool on tea towel and store between waxed paper in a cookie jar.

Variations:

  • For a brown sugar version substitute the powdered sugar in equal portion for brown sugar
  • For chocolate shortbread add 1/3 cup cocoa to the flour step.
  • Along with 1 tsp vanilla extract add one of the following options:
  • Grated zest of citrus: either 2 limes or 2 lemons or 2 oranges
  • Mix in- 1/2 cup mini chocolate

The Baker’s Passport – Iran

        Nowruz_2

Aide shoma mobarak

 

Persian New Year, or Nowruz dates back over a thousand years and is a family event to celebrate the coming of spring. The two-week holiday begins the instant the sun crosses the celestial equator. This year it begins at  4:07 and 26 seconds PM-PST.

Norouz means "new day" in Farsi, the language of Iran, which is present day Persia. It begins on the first day of spring and is a two-week celebration of rebirth and renewal. Dating to pre-Islamic times, when much of the vast Persian Empire followed the religion of Zoroastrianism, Norouz today is the biggest holiday of the year in Iran. Schools and businesses are closed, and the well-to-do take vacations or retreat to the countryside.

Foods served during Norouz communicate spring themes. Sweet and sour flavors are meant to represent the duality of good and evil. Eggs represent fertility, and are served in dishes like the popular kuku (somewhat similar to an Italian frittata). Ash reshfte  a warm noodle soup, typically begins the new year meal. The symbolism of the noodles it is said represent wishes for the unraveling of life’s knotty problems. The main course for a typical Iranian New Year’s meal is sabzi polo hami, or green herbs and rice, served with a white fish sauteed with chopped onion, lemon juice, turmeric, salt and fresh garlic.

The number seven has been sacred in Iran for thousands of years. Significance of number seven historically was to represent the "Seven Eternal Laws", which embodied the teachings of Zarathushtra. The teachings included having a good mind, good guidance, and discovering the ultimate truth among other things.  At this time Iranians prepare a table or sofreh (a plastic sheet used as a tablecloth on the ground) on a rug with a variety of foods. Traditionally, these seven symbolic items are displayed for haft sin, the ceremonial table set for the Persian New Year.   Sofreh-ye haft-sinn or "seven dishes’ setting,"  each standing for the seven angelic heralds of life: rebirth;  health; happiness; prosperity; joy, patience, and beauty. The holiday dishes — each of which starts with the Persian letter sinn — represent the keys to a happy life. The symbolic dishes consist of sabzeh, or sprouts, usually wheat or lentil, representing rebirth. Samanu is a pudding in which common wheat sprouts are transformed and given new life as a sweet, creamy pudding, and represents the ultimate sophistication of Persian cooking. Sib means apple and represents health and beauty. Senjed, the sweet, dry fruit of the wild olive, represents love. It has been said that when the wild olive is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love and become oblivious to all else. Seer, which is garlic in Persian, represents medicine. Somaq, sumac berries, represent the color of sunrise; with the appearance of the sun Good conquers Evil. Serkeh , or vinegar, represents age and patience.  In addition seven sweets are often included:

"On the same table many people place seven special sweets because, according to a three-thousand-year-old legend, King Jamshid discovered sugar on Nowruz (the word candy comes from the Persian word for sugar, qand). These seven sweets are noghls (sugar-coated almonds); Persian baklava, a sweet, flaky pastry filled with chopped almonds and pistachios soaked in honey-flavored rose water; nan-e berenji (rice cookies), made of rice flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with poppy seeds; nan-e badami (almond cookies), made of almond flour flavored with cardamom and rose water; nan-e nokhodchi (chick-pea cookies), made of chick-pea flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with pistachios; sohan asali (honey almonds), cooked with honey and saffron and garnished with pistachios; and nan-e gerdui (walnut cookies), made of walnut flour flavored with cardamom and garnished with pistachio slivers."

                                  ~~excerpted from New Food of Life, Najimieh Batmanglij

A traditional menu includes ash-e reshteh, a hearty noodle soup; sabzi polow ba mahi, fresh herb rice and fish; and kuku ye sabzi, a lighter-than-air herb souffle. As with everything at Nowruz, many foods have meaning as an example: eating the noodles symbolically representing the Gordian knot of unraveling life’s knotty problems. Before we wander too deeply into the vast waters of Iranian food culture this needs to work itself back to desserts in the Persian new year with this recipe for the traditional walnut flour cookie enjoyed at this time.

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