Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

Much has happened since my last post!  I played a monster solo recital last week, featuring a program that was the musical equivalent of an ironman triathlon.  My wonderful mother flew into town for the occasion, and I was delighted that she could share in the big night and visit with all of my friends. Mom made the most delectable Lavender Shortbread Cookies for the post-recital reception, and it is my pleasure to share these little beauties with you today.

My post-recital parties are usually fairly simple affairs, usually with a few beautiful cheeses, olives and grapes set out alongside some wine.  But Mom wanted to make these lavender cookies that my Aunt Barbara had baked on a recent visit, and I certainly wasn’t going to say no.

Mom and I have a long history of planning post-recital parties together.  In fact, I got my start in the kitchen because of the parties Mom threw for her piano students after their monthly class recitals.  I remember marching into the kitchen during one of her pre-recital baking flurries when I was six years old, announcing that I needed to learn how to bake and that I would help her get ready for her party the next day.  

Ever the great teacher, she pulled up a chair for me at the counter so I could help her measure ingredients and stir bowls of batter.   From that time, I was hooked. She was endlessly patient with me, even during those times when I couldn’t keep my little fingers out of the cookie dough.  I loved being in the kitchen with her, and those are some of my happiest memories of being a kid. 

Even last week on the recital day, Mom and I slipped back into our familiar rhythm, preparing the table together and readying the apartment for the post-concert party.  She baked the cookies while I warmed up and took a nap, and her calming presence helped me stay focused as I got ready to run my musical marathon that night. 

I had an absolute blast sharing these incredible works of Bach, Ysaye, Paganini and Bartok with everyone, and it was an added to joy to look out into the audience and see my beautiful mom there in the front.  There was much celebrating afterwards and the bubbly flowed freely back at my apartment.  And the lavender shortbread cookies were the hit of the evening, as my friends and I were all blown away. 

These cookies are perfect—light yet buttery with a fine sandy texture.  The dough is flecked with just enough lavender so that the beguiling flavor comes through, but it doesn’t overpower the cookie so that they taste soapy the way some lavender desserts can.  I think they would be perfect with afternoon tea, but I assure you that they also taste great with champagne.  Regardless, these are cookies to share with people you love.

One Year Ago: Fried Green Tomato BLT
Three Years Ago: Eggplant Parmigiana
Four Years Ago: Amaretto Truffles

From a recipe via my Aunt Barbara, which I believe is nearly identical to this one on the James Beard website.

I made just a half-batch this afternoon for photographing, but I almost didn’t have anything left to roll out and bake, for the dough is so good even in its raw form!  Make sure to cream the butter and sugars together for the full 3 minutes, as this helps create the light texture.

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
¼ cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 Tablespoon fresh lavender buds (or 1 teaspoon dried lavender buds), coarsely chopped

Beat the butter, granulated sugar, powdered sugar and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer for 3 minutes until well combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

In a medium bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour and the cake flour.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the bowl after each addition.  Add the lavender buds and mix in just till combined.

Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and roll the dough out into a rectangle about ½-inch thick.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat.  Cut the chilled dough into 1-x-2-inch rectangles and bake for 19 to 20 minutes until the edges are just beginning to turn golden.  (They will continue to cook after your remove them from the oven, so make sure not to overbrown them---as I did here!) Remove the cookies from the oven and immediately sprinkle with a pinch of granulated sugar.  Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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