Nutty rosemary and lemon/pistachio/sesame shortbread


I LOVE shortbread! I think back to those childhood days of eating Lorna Doone cookies and how much I enjoyed their crumbly butteriness (was there really butter in those babies??). I've come a long way down the shortbread trail since then. Yes, I know I've gone on about this topic in the past, but good things deserve a little review every now and then, right?

Depending on what part of the world you hang out in, these cookies can be referred to as biscuits (thanks to the Brits), shortbread (more Scottish - think Walkers) or sablés (thanks to the French).

My approach follows the traditional Scottish method - a simple combo of sugar/butter/flour, and you're good to go. Typically along the lines of 1-2-3 dough, you weigh out 1 part sugar to 2 parts butter to 3 parts flour and mix 'em up. You can play around with the ratios (decrease the sugar and increase the butter a bit) to yield an even more buttery cookie.

I have two base recipes that I use regularly. One uses granulated cane sugar and one confectioner's sugar (gives 'em a slightly more tender texture?). You can play around with different sugars on your own and decide which gives you the texture you most enjoy.

And why do I use two different bases you might ask? Because I can and so can you!

Add in your favorite citrus zest, spices, chopped nuts, chopped chocolate, dried fruit - the possibilities go on and on.

There are two mixing methods: sanding and what I like to call blending (I think of this one as just short of creaming - you're not trying to aerate the dough, just blending everything together).

The first involves weighing your sugar and flour into a mixing bowl, dicing cold butter and sanding it into the dry ingredients to coarse crumbs. At that point you just press into a pan and bake it. You can take the mixing a step further, going past the coarse crumbs until the dough holds together, then wrap, chill and roll out later, cutting into any shape that suits your fancy.

Both methods result in a lovely crumbly/crispy/buttery cookie, although, with the sanding and press in method, the texture is a bit more crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth. I make mine both ways and enjoy them equally.

If you look at LOTS of shortbread cookies recipes, you may notice that many of the French sablés add egg (whole or yolk) to the dough as a binder. They're delicious too! 

Periodically I enjoy changing up my flavor offerings. This time I had pecans in the freezer and sesame seeds in the cupboard.

First up - rosemary pecan.


Over the years I occasionally make rosemary roasted nuts, usually walnuts or pecans, that are absolutely delicious as an appetizer along with a cheese or two. For a savory cookie, I chop some of the already rosemary-ied nuts and add them into my dough. Yum. So delicious.


Next - lemon pistachio sesame.


This one adds in some toasted sesame seeds, lemon zest/juice and chopped unsalted raw pistachios. Once baked, I brush them with honey and pop them back into the oven for a few minutes to set the honey. Oh man are they good!


On to the base recipes (plus additions!)

Rosemary pecan:

  1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment blend 75 g granulated cane sugar with 200 g diced, room temperature unsalted butter. 
  2. Add 250 g all purpose flour and blend in just until the dough comes together. Note/tip: I've started replacing about 1/5 of my all purpose flour with white whole wheat for some added whole grain goodness. 
  3. For the rosemary pecan version, chop 75 g rosemary roasted pecans (recipe below) and add them into the dough. Wrap, chill for at least an hour before rolling out and cutting desired shapes.

How easy is that??!

Lemon pistachio sesame:

  1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment blend 75 g confectioner's sugar with 227 g diced, room temperature, unsalted butter (notice a slight bump in the butter content here).
  2. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, the zest of two lemons plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice and blend in.
  3. Add 260 g all purpose flour (or sub 1/5 of that as white whole wheat flour) and 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix just until it comes together.

Blend in 50 g toasted sesame seeds and 50 g chopped raw pistachios. Wrap and chill for an hour or so before rolling out and cutting desired shapes.

I bake my shortbread at 325ºF (convection) for about 15 minutes or until gently browned (watch what's happening in there!!). Don't forget - it's your job to learn your own oven. 

Now how about those roasted rosemary pecans, you might ask? Here's the recipe (you'll have PLENTY of nuts for your shortbread dough - feel free to halve the recipe OR, even better, make the full batch and have plenty for apps and snacks):

  1.  Heat oven to 325º F.
  2. In a microwave safe bowl melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/3 cup chopped fresh rosemary (or 2 tablespoons crumbled dried), 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon paprika and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne.
  3. Place 4 cups nuts (walnuts, pecans or a mixture of the two) in a bowl and toss with the above mixture, coating the nuts evenly.
  4. Spread onto a 1/2 sheet pan and bake 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until browned and fragrant.
  5. Drain on paper towels, cool and serve at room temperature (or chop some up for your shortbread - yay!!).
  6. Store leftovers in an airtight container and enjoy for many days.

Now get in that kitchen of yours and create your own version of delicious, crumbly, buttery shortbread. You can do it!

Pistachio berry dacquoise

I'm a bit behind the curve on this one but welcome to 2017!

During the Christmas-New Year's week we had a lovely dinner at friend Margaret's cozy and festively decorated home.  She rustled up a Viennese beef stew with noodles, as a reminder of her recent trip to Austria in early December. Her friend Kate brought a delicious and full-of-good-stuff green salad, and I, of course, brought dessert.

Creamy custard, lightly sweetened berry compote, candied pistachios - all nestled on a dacquoise base.  Sounds pretty good!

Dacquoise is one of my favorite things to make (and to eat, yes sir!).  It's basically a soft nut meringue with the same ingredients as the popular and trendy French macaron, but it is WAY less fussy and tastes great too.

Having egg whites in the fridge is often the impetus I need to make dacquoise, and so it was that I began to imagine a pistachio version for my dessert creation.

The recipe: in a separate bowl whisk together 50 g almond flour, 50 g ground unsalted raw pistachios and 75 g confectioners sugar. In a mixer with the whisk attachment whip 3 egg whites with 25 g granulated sugar to stiff peaks.  Gently fold in the nut/confectioners sugar mixture just until blended.

NOTE:  you can use any ground nut, either by itself or as a mix - almond, pistachio, hazelnut, walnut or pecan - you decide.

Once the dacquoise is mixed you can pipe any shape you choose, depending on your dessert vision.

You can see what I did below.  I think of these as dacquoise rafts just waiting to float down a dessert river, and, in this case, destined to carry a creamy ricotta custard ingot.

ready for the oven

all baked up!

Dacquoise is one of the few things for which I use silicone baking mats.  The softly baked meringue lifts off the Silpat so easily.  It's a beautiful thing. And another plus is you can make these ahead and freeze them until ready to go.

Candied pistachios are next.  Adjust the recipe depending on the quantities you need, but a typical base recipe calls for 2 cups raw nuts, about 1/2 an egg white, some sugar as well as spices of choice if that's what you're after - cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, even a little cayenne pepper - it's up to you.

Just whisk up the egg white until foamy, whisk in about 1/4 cup sugar (and the optional spices) then stir in the nuts until coated.  Spread out onto a parchment or Silpat lined pan and bake at 325ºF, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the egg whites have dried and things look toasty.  It usually takes about 20-25 minutes for me.

Good news - the nuts are another do-ahead component that will keep at room temperature in a covered container for many days.

crunchy goodness

The beauty of these is they aren't really very sweet, even though coated in sugar - just deliciously enjoyable!

The ricotta custard is a combo of 177 g ricotta, 354 g cream cheese, 112 g sugar, 2 eggs, 1 egg white, seeds from 1/2 scraped vanilla bean and 177 g heavy cream.  Beat the cheeses, sugar, vanilla bean in the mixer until smooth, beat in the egg and white, then add the cream and blend.

Pour the custard into flexible silicone molds of choice.  I used Silikomart's SF026 12-well ingot shaped mold. 

Place the molds on a sheet pan, pour some hot water in to bathe the lower half of the molds and bake at 275ºF until the custard is set.  The time will vary depending on the size of your molds (for these it took 20-25 minutes).  This recipe made about 20 custard ingots.

Once baked, let the custards cool to room temperature then put them, mold and all, into the freezer until firm.  Then you can pop them out of the molds and store them frozen. Yay!  Another do-ahead.

In the afternoon on your designated dessert day, just place the frozen shapes onto your chosen bases and refrigerate to thaw before serving.  The custards hold their shape and are ready to garnish and enjoy!

I made a berry compote with a mixture of raspberries and blackberries (total 300 g) in a saucepan with 40 g of sugar and some lime zest.  Heat 'em up until the berries break down a bit then stir in a cornstarch slurry (2 teaspoons cornstarch whisked in 1 tablespoon warm water) and simmer a few minutes until the mixture thickens.

Serve it a bit on the warm side or refrigerate it until ready to use. By now you know - do-ahead!!

What a luscious combination enjoyed by all! And a simple vanilla shortbread on the side added that extra special something.

Happy New Year from The French Tarte. Here's to all the baking and dessert creations to come!

Strawberry pistachio feuilletés

Forever scheming about ways to use ingredients I have on hand, whether in the freezer or cupboard, I hit upon feuilletés, puff pastry cases filled with whatever your little heart desires.

Our local grocery store, Meijer, has recently started carrying local Michigan, greenhouse-grown strawberries, which look world's better than the usual year round California giant, and often anemic looking, berries.

not bad for "out of season" fruit

I also had some pistachio paste on hand and decided on a pistachio pastry cream filling topped with fresh strawberries and pistachio crumble for this particular adventure.

I rolled out my puff, cut squares and fashioned the turned-corner feuilletés as seen in the photo below.  I popped them into the freezer while heating the oven to 425ºF.

Once the oven came up to temp, I brushed them with a little milk, sprinkled on some vanilla sugar and baked them with an overturned cooling grid across the top of the sheet pans - this technique keeps the puff even as it rises.

After about 10-15 minutes I removed the cooling grids and continued baking until nicely puffed and golden brown (another 10 minutes or so).

just out of the oven

love those layers!

I had made a classic crème pâtissiere au pistache earlier that day.  I added a bit of whipped cream to lighten the chilled pistachio cream.

Once the feuilletés were cooled, I simply pushed down their centers to make room for the filling, piped in some pistachio pastry cream and topped them with slices of strawberry.  Pistachio crumble finished them off, along with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Et voila!

These made for a delicious flaky, buttery, creamy, fruity, crunchy treat after a traditional Easter dinner of ham, cheesy potatoes, asparagus, strawberry spinach salad, carrot souffle and more.

Tasty.  Now just get into YOUR kitchen and create your own version of feuilletés!

Yes indeed.

Pistachio and chocolate butter cake from Samantha Seneviratne

A post holiday gift to myself was the book the new sugar and spice - A RECIPE FOR BOLDER BAKING by Samantha Seneviratne.

Many of the recipes have caught my eye.  My first trial from the book, coffee cardamom shortbread, was a definite success.

Next up is the cover recipe for pistachio and chocolate butter cake, highlighting the use of pistachio paste, cardamom and chocolate chunks (and butter, of course).

The butter, eggs and milk should be at room temperature.

Butter a 9" springform pan and heat the oven to 350º.

Do your ingredient mise en place . . . .

les ingredients
and let's go!

Whisk 223 grams flour, 7 grams baking powder, one teaspoon freshly ground cardamom (hard to see, but it's there on the left side in with the flour) and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.

Cream 113 grams/1 stick room temperature, unsalted butter with 75 grams granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add two eggs, one at a time, then blend in 198 grams pistachio paste.

Add the flour mixture alternately with 120 ml milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.

Fold in 85 grams chopped dark chocolate (I used a mixture of 56% and 72%).

Put the batter into the springform pan and smooth.  Sprinkle 35 grams coarsely chopped pistachos over the top.

A very straight forward cake batter preparation.

ready for the oven

Bake for about 30-40 minutes.

just out of the oven

How did this work out?  Well, this is one case where it's important to pay attention to what's going on in your oven.

I baked this for a good 50-55 minutes since the center was still loose after the first 30-40 minutes.

At that point all the signs of doneness were there - a tester inserted in the center came out with moist crumbs, the top was nicely browned, there was no central jiggling when I lightly shook the pan, and it felt firm in the center.  Plus the aroma was enticing!

BUT!  Once this cake cooled it sank significantly in the middle and was still not thoroughly baked through in the center.  Disappointing.  You pay attention, you think it's done, but then . . . .

Perhaps the fact that my springform pan was sitting on an insulated cookie sheet kept the oven heat from getting properly into the center - who knows!

However, all was not lost.  I simply cut out the center goo, sliced the cake and served it with Samantha's roasted banana ice cream (see my next post!).  Pretty tasty indeed.

The cake is dense and buttery with a lovely cardamom-pistachio-chocolate thing going on.

If I were to do this recipe again, I would bake the cake in small flexi-molds or individual cake pans.  The baking time would be less, and the smaller portions would bake through more evenly.

Live and learn.  That's what it's all about.