Hazelnut Shortbread With Bite

August 12th, 2009  |  14 Comments

hazelnut-shortbread-final1

I’m not naming any names, but my boyfriend Scott has a way of eating that illustrates how much he doesn’t care about food. When a plate is set before him, say, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, he eats all the meatloaf first, THEN all the mashed potatoes. It’s all very mechanical. He gets the food in. The end. Needless to say, to me, it’s like he’s ripping a limb off a torso—not only is it painful but he’s taking apart that which is meant to be whole. A dish, in my humble opinion, should be enjoyed as a medley of flavors and textures, where a fork might meet a different food with each stab.

When I used to work out a dish for a restaurant menu, I’d think of how the components would play off each other. That’s a good time to catch me talking to myself, surely sounding like a typical, neurotic New Yorker. Is there something warm on the plate? Maybe a cold sorbet will make a good contrast. Is the dessert very creamy? Then why not add a crispy garnish. Does it get too cloying and monotonous? Add something that has some acidity to cut through the sweetness. Or maybe the portion is too big. Do none of the flavors stand out? There’s probably too much stuff on the plate, so time to cut back. I was always striving for balance.

Once I decided a dish was ready for it’s debut, I’d make up a plate in the exact way I’d want it to go out to the guest, sit down in a quiet corner and eat the entire thing. This might sound like what dreams are made of, but this wasn’t just for gluttonous purposes. This was bizness. My purpose was to refine. If you’ve ever been to a chain restaurant and got one of those heaping brownie bowls for dessert, you might have encountered what I call flavor fatigue. The first few bites are gooey and sensational, but by the 100th bite, (and there ARE at least a hundred bites in those monsters, aren’t there?) the romance is long over. My goal was to make sure the dessert was interesting through and through, and, like the best “massage parlors”, leave the guests with a happy ending and a smile.

Yes, I like a little more excitement out of my food. Call me a food slave driver. This doesn’t necessarily mean things have to be complicated. Take something like these chocolate and lemon mousses. Though they ARE great on their own, I can only eat a few bites before I start to feel like I’m gumming baby food.

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That, my friends, is where these shortbread cookies come in. They have just the right amount of crunch for needed contrast, yet are buttery enough to disintegrate away, prepping the palate for another bite of custard. A ying and yang of flavors. The hazelnuts can be substituted with almonds, pecans, or whatever nut is calling out to you that day.

And if there is no custard around,  I admit I’d still eat ‘em in their pure, unadulterated glory.

Hazelnut Shortbread
makes 16

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup hazelnuts
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, left to rest out for about 10 minutes. You want it slightly softer, but not room temp
1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
powdered sugar (optional, for dusting)


1. Los ingredients. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

hazelnut-shortbread-ingredients


2. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking pan and toast. About 15 minutes.

hazelnut-shortbread-toast-nuts


3. If they don’t have skins on, you’re golden. If they do have skins, take a clean dish towel and roll the nuts back and forth, till the skins fall away.

hazelnut-shortbread-rub-skins


hazelnut-shortbread-skinned

Let the nuts cool completely before proceeding. Grinding warm nuts (ahem, excuse me) will turn them into paste, and we want powder.

 

4. Dump the flour and the cooled nuts in a food processor.

hazelnut-shortbread-in-processor

 

Grind until a sort of meal forms.

hazelnut-shortbread-ground


5. Next, get the butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl.

hazelnut-shortbread-butter-sugar


Mash them into a paste. You can use a pastry cutter or your hands.

hazelnut-shortbread-butter-mashed


6. Add the flour/hazelnut powder…

hazelnut-shortbread-add-dry


… and mix until just combined, not any longer. Your dough will still be crumbly and that’s ok.

hazelnut-shortbread-dough


7. Grab a 9″ fluted tart pan and give it a little spritz of nonstick cooking spray first (you can use whatever shape pan you have on hand: square, non-fluted, etc., as long as your dough ends up about 1/2″ high when pressed.) Evenly press in your dough.

hazelnut-shortbread-press-in-pan


8. Before baking, lightly score the dough to mark where you’ll cut the cookies later.

hazelnut-shortbread-score


And prick ‘em decoratively with a fork, if it’s your heart’s desire.

hazelnut-shortbread-fork-pricks


9. Bake in your preheated 350 degree oven until just golden in color. Mine took about 25-30 minutes.

hazelnut-shortbread-baked


10. Let them cool for 5 minutes, and then slice them where you scored them while they’re still warm. This keeps them from crumbling as much.

hazelnut-shortbread-slice

 

11. Optionally, you can lay them out, and sprinkle them with powdered sugar (place powdered sugar in a fine mesh sieve and shake over the cookies.)

hazelnut-shortbread-lay-out

Buttery cookies.

Hazelnut Shortbread
makes 16

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup hazelnuts
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, left to rest out for about 10 minutes. You want it slightly softer, but not room temp
1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
powdered sugar (optional, for dusting)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast the hazelnuts for about 15 minutes.
2. If the hazelnuts have skins, rub them with a kitchen towel until the skins fall away. Allow to cool completely.
3. Grind the hazelnuts with flour in a food processor until fine. Do not overprocess or this will turn to a paste.
4. In a bowl, mash together the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt into a paste. (You can use a pastry cutter a fork a potato masher, or even your hands.)
5. Stir in the the flour and hazelnut mix. 
6. Butter the inside of a fluted 9″ tart pan and press the dough in as evenly as possible.
7. Score the dough into 16 wedges before baking and prick the border with a fork if you’re in the mood for added decoration.
8. Bake in your preheated 350 degree oven until just golden in color, about 25-30 minutes. 
9. Let them cool for 5 minutes, and then slice them where you scored them while they’re still warm. Slicing while they’re warm keeps them from crumbling as much. 
10. Optionally, you can lay them out, and sprinkle them with powdered sugar (place powdered sugar in a fine mesh sieve and shake over the cookies.)






14 Responses to “Hazelnut Shortbread With Bite”

  1. Scott says:

    For the record:

    1. Sometimes I skip the potatoes because they trick me and blend in to the plate color

    2. Plates are not always set before me. I occassionally have to get my own

    Needless to say this is the best blog in the world. Keep it up.

  2. Khinya says:

    Browsing thru your blog all of a sudden I feel an urge to bake. This did not happen to me for a long long time. You inspire me.

  3. Rachel says:

    I am so excited to find your blog! I will definitely be following it. Thank you!

  4. I always get hungry when I visit your site. Amazing food photography, as usual.

  5. ABowlOfMush says:

    What a beautiful post! I love hazelnut short bread, its such a nice combination.
    Your pictures are beautiful :)

  6. Zahavah says:

    I adore shortbread (it was one of the first things I baked on my new blog…now 6 months old) and these look amazing. Thanks for the tip about mixing flour when grinding the hazelnuts to avoid a sticky paste.

  7. Happy Cook says:

    I have never made shortbreads at home, alwats boought from shops , as i was afraid to make them, you pictures of making them have really inspired me to make them .

  8. Marzipan says:

    Hi! I’m stopping by from Tastespotting! You’re photos are wonderful. I’ll be sure to follow your blog and make these shortbread as soon as I can!

  9. Ben says:

    First time stopping by here but I would say that looking at the photos it is a good job that you choose to give up the day job and become a pastry chef! Like the little triangles as well, makes a nice change from the square most people cut shortbread into

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Mmmmm….Warm nuts. Oh, I meant warm hazelnuts. Love it! Because it reminds me of my Mother’s one and only dessert, hazelnut torte, now a family favourite. Really, filberts are wildly underused these days. So hurrah for bringing them back!

    Oh and my husband does the same thing with his food. When I give him a nice big, juicy hot burger with a cold side salad, he’ll eat the salad first! When he gets to the burger, it’s all cold and limp….

    There’s just no forethought about our painstaking planning. Boys…

  11. Linda says:

    OMG this looks soo buttery. I can just imagine having a warm piece of shortbread with some coffee.

  12. Jamie says:

    Ha! Love this post! My girlfriend told me that when she asks her boyfriend what he’d like for dinner he just says, anything that’s dead and no longer moves is fine with me! Luckily I am married to a man who loves food, flavors, eating and cooking!

    I also love your food philosophy and these shortbread cookies are perfect! Love your blog, too!

  13. Lydia says:

    What a fabulous site. So glad I stumbled on it. Thank you for MasterMacroon recipe. Anxious to explore this amazing site.

  14. I am on a quest for the perfect ladie’s kisses, so I am trying all the hazelnut cookies recipes that come my way. This goes on the list! Your shortbreads look great!

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