breaking form: a recipe
by Elizabeth de Barros
orange zest shortbread biscuits
NEVER THOUGHT I’D WRITE A BLOG POST for a cookie recipe. Well, maybe I did, but scrapped it before I could say butter. But I love breaking the rules when the rules are for breaking. Besides, it’s the holidays!
And even if it’s raining outside, life’s not all Sturm und Drang. I’m a baker at heart, a lover of good, a dreamer of what is not, a searcher of things. Everything that goes into the making of a good cookie. Throw perfectionist in there, too. The perfect cookie, where the flavor is full in the mouth and satisfying, there’s no need to reach for another. One will do. The exact complement to a fine pot of tea shared among friends. It is possible.
When it comes to cookies, I believe I have found the motherlode.
This is an adaptation of a Martha Stewart recipe, and I’m slapping myself silly that after tweaking the recipe long and hard enough, I created my own so as not to resemble hers at all. I cannot be accused of stealing and I will have escaped from going to jail. Not only have I outgrown Martha Stewart, I’ve outwitted her!
FIRST THINGS FIRST: Read through the recipe. It’s good practice all around, and chances are you’ll have to run out and get something. In this case, probably Grand Marnier. Don’t bother getting the big jug, a little 1 fl. oz. sampler bottle from your local ABC store will suffice. Zante currants can hopefully be found in the dried fruit and raisin section of your neighborhood grocery. My box was found in the northerly regions of aisle 7, sitting in the dark all by its lonesome on the bottom shelf. Jackpot! And don’t fret if you do not have unsalted butter. Call me a rebel, but in all my 25 years of serious baking, I have primarily used salted butter, because that’s what was in the fridge. I cannot tell the difference once the butter gets incorporated into the dough. Suit yourself. Well-formed opinions about butter are always welcome. Now, if you haven’t got a zester, a cheese grater will do. And if you haven’t got a cheese grater, God bless you. Just use a potato peeler and run a sharp knife through the bits of pith-free orange peel once or twice. There’s your zest in all its citrus oil-releasing glory. Next, the mileage you will get from an ounce of orange extract is worth the $4.79. Strap on your boots and hunt for it. I cannot believe I’ve lived without it all this time. And sea salt. It’s a household staple and what has become the lovely difference in my kitchen world. La Baleine or Hain are both reliable brands. Now, on Dasher, on Blixen, let’s get on with our cookie making!
- 1/4 cup Grand Marnier
- 1/2 cup dried Zante currants
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/3 + 2 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- 1/2 teaspoon pure orange extract
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I’m partial to King Arthur Flour)
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Combine Grand Marnier and currants; cover, and let stand at room temperature overnight. Drain. Discard liqueur or save for other use.
Beat butter, sugar, and orange zest with a mixer on medium speed until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Can also use fingers instead. Add orange extract and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour and salt, beat for 3 additional minutes. Stir in currants by hand or use wooden spoon or heavy-duty spatula.
Form dough into log by rolling in a light dusting of flour on marble pastry board or countertop, about 8-10 inches long, 2 inches in diameter; wrap in parchment, and refrigerate 1 hour (or up to 3 days).
Remove parchment. Slice log into 1/4 inch-thick rounds, and space about 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (This helps to keep shape during baking) prior to baking. Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit.
Once oven is preheated, bake until pale golden, about 20 minutes, depending on individual oven calibration. Let cool. Makes approximately 16 delectably rich cookies that hint of the sophisticated flavor of Grand Marnier.
I might still look for ways to perfect this recipe. Less currants, more firmness, and a thicker, more defined shape (translation: slice log into 1 inch thick rounds), but I digress. Either way, consider it my virtual Christmas gift to you this 2013, with love.