Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 18, 2010

Foodie With Family: Quick! Cookies

Local columnist

---- — The days are getting shorter and the cold air is starting to blow. It's growing closer to that point when we'll all want to crawl into our cozy warm homes to hibernate for the winter.

We are now officially into the time of year that I think of affectionately as the "hot beverage months." Those days when the world only seems right when your hands are wrapped carefully around a steaming mug of coffee, tea or cocoa. There is some dissension around here as to what that mug should hold. Papa likes his coffee strong and pure, unsullied by cream and sugar. Mama likes a light cup of black tea (or a cup of quite sweet and quite creamy mocha.) The Five Baby Bears, collectively, like a mug of marshmallow-topped hot chocolate.

On this we all agree, though; a cup of something hot requires a cookie.

In our home, a cookie jar is well-nigh impossible to keep filled. Lack of cookies is not an option. The solution is a stack of cookie recipes that can be turned out last minute to keep the whole crew happy. Here are two of our favorites.

Real, honest-to-goodness Scottish Shortbread is a thing of beauty. Deceptively simple to make, the depth of flavor is surprising. Rich, not-too-sweet, and slightly crumbly, shortbread is about as perfect an accompaniment to a cuppa as ever there was. The real trick to Scottish Shortbread is using a blend of all-purpose flour and rice flour (or cornstarch if rice flour is unavailable where you shop.) This blend prevents some of the "floury" taste and texture associated with most homemade shortbread.

The intense vanilla punch in these cookies is provided by ground vanilla (which is exactly what its name describes) or vanilla powder, both of which are usually sold by bulk foods stores or by well-stocked groceries. If you are not able to find ground vanilla or vanilla powder, you can substitute an equal quantity of vanilla extract, but the flavor will not be as powerful.

If you can stand to wait, the flavor of this shortbread is even better a handful of days after baking. Because they improve with age, they are a wonderful choice for holiday baking. I make and freeze these before I do anything else on my Christmas cookie list because they hold up so wonderfully.

Pssst. Should you decide to dunk these in chocolate or top with chocolate hazelnut spread you might be called a genius.

Vanilla Scottish Shortbread

2 sticks (8 ozs.) salted butter, softened

1½-1¾ c. (8½ ozs. by weight) all-purpose flour

½ c. (2½ ozs. by weight) rice flour or cornstarch

½ c. sugar (3½ ozs. by weight) granulated sugar

1 t. ground vanilla or vanilla powder

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle (or use a large mixing bowl and hand mixer).

Turn the mixer on low, and gradually increase the speed to medium-high, beating the ingredients until they clump together. Turn off the mixer.

For thin shortbread, divide the dough between two lightly oiled and parchment-lined 8- or 9-inch cake pans.

For a thicker shortbread, scrape all the dough into one lightly oiled and parchment-lined cake pan.

Pat the dough firmly into the pan(s), making the surface as level as possible.

Use a fork to prick the surface of the shortbread. (This is mainly for visual appeal when the shortbread is done, so the pattern you use is up to you.)

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until it feels set to the touch and has just started browning around the edges.

Remove from the oven. To get the cleanest finished pieces, use a bench knife to cut the shortbread in the pan(s) while still quite hot (within 5 minutes of removal from the oven.)

Allow the shortbread to cool completely before turning out of the pan(s).

Store at room temperature in a tightly covered container.

• • •

We're staying in the U.K. for this next recipe with my take on the classic British Flapjacks.

Unlike American flapjacks, British Flapjacks are a caramel-flavored, chewy, oat-filled, dense, bar cookie.

And they're addictive. Be warned.

While our overseas cousins traditionally use Lyle's Golden Syrup, I make these with good old-fashioned American maple syrup.

Either way they are delicious, but I think they benefit immensely from the distinctive maple touch.

Maple Flapjacks

Adapted from the traditional British Flapjacks recipe run in the March 2010 issue of Bon Appetit.

1 stick (4 ozs.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

½ c. packed light brown sugar

¼ c. real maple syrup

2&⅓ c. quick cooking oats (do not substitute rolled or old-fashioned oats)

A hearty pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly grease a square 8-inch pan. Add butter, brown sugar and maple syrup to a heavy-bottomed, medium saucepan over medium-low heat.

Stir constantly until butter is melted, sugar is dissolved and it is smooth. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in oats and salt until evenly coated. Scrape into the prepared pan and press it gently into the pan to even the top.

Bake until top is golden and the edges are slightly deeper brown, or about 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. While the mixture is still soft, cut into 4 squares and then cut each square into 4 triangles.

Cool completely in pan before turning out and serving. These can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature. If you have any left, that is.

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