Santa’s Shortbread

20161209_130916 One of my favourite cookies for the holidays is shortbread.  Its rich buttery taste just gets me in the mood for sitting in front of a warm cozy fire with a mug of hot chocolate and these great cookies.  This is also the perfect cookie to set out for the jolly old elf himself for his yearly visit.

It has been said that shortbread originated in Scotland.  Leftover bits of dough would be made in little disks and baked on the side of the fire.  Biscuits were literally twice baked and that’s where the word came from: ‘bis’ – twice/two and ‘coctus’ – cooked in latin became bescuit in Old French and eventually biscuit in English.  Butter gradually replaced yeast as dairy farming became more popular in Scotland.  You may wonder why it’s called shortbread as it doesn’t really resemble any type of bread we know now.

Butter, the defining ingredient in the recipe, is often listed as “shortening,” hence the cookie’s name: “short (ening) bread.” In fact, butter is so integral to the cookie that in 1921 the British government legislated that any product called shortbread must contain at least 51% fat derived from real butter. Thank you Britain for keeping the rich cookie tradition alive.

The high butter content produces a crumbly texture. Fat inhibits gluten, a protein in wheat, which allows dough to rise. Gluten gives dough a chewy texture. Higher fat content slows down gluten. Its protein strands are then shorter, rather than longer, producing a more crumbly texture rather than a chewy one.  This particular shortbread is whipped instead of made into a dough and pressed into a mold or cut into cookie shapes.  Because it’s whipped the cookie can be piped with a piping bag.

Preheat your oven to 350F.  You’ll start by whipping in a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.  I recommend using a standing mixer instead of the handheld kind, just because it has more power.  This is a stiff batter and the smaller mixer might not be able to handle it.  So, whip the butter and shortening until fluffy.  On low speed add the flour, cornstarch, icing sugar, and extracts and whip on medium/high until light and fluffy.   The batter should be stiff, but soft enough to pipe.

Place batter in a piping bag with a large star tip.  I have a massive wax piping bag and I used a Wilton #4 star.  Note, fill with bag about 20161209_104650half way with the batter.  Your hands will thank you later.  If the bag is too full then it will be really hard to pipe the cookies.

Pipe rosettes with the piping bag by making two circles on top of each other with the batter and end in the middle of the cookie.  The batter should be about an inch or so high.  It will flatten with baking. Leave about two inches between each cookie and try to do alternate spacing with the rows by piping the next row of cookies slightly lower than the previous row.  This way the cookies will have room to spread and you can fit a little more on each tray.  I use Silpat liners for my cookie trays but you can also use parchment.

Place a piece of glace cherry in the middle of each cookie (or use holiday sprinkles) and bake for 10-12 minutes.  The cookies will flatten out and be slightly darker, but not much.  If there’s browning around the edges then they may be over-baked, resulting in a tough cookie.  Let the shortbread cool on the pan for about five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  Enjoy with a cool glass of

Cooling cookies.
Cooling cookies.

milk or your favourite hot beverage.

Santa's Shortbread

These light whipped shortbreads are perfect for a visit from St. Nick.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 27 minutes
Servings 4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 pound butter 454 grams
  • 1/2 pound vegetable shortening
  • 4 1/2 cups All purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 3/4 cups cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp butter extract
  • glace (candied) cherries red and green

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. In stand mixer whip butter and shortening until fluffy. Turn mixer to low and slowly add flour, icing sugar and cornstarch until incorporated. Add vanilla and butter extract. Turn mixer to medium/high and whip batter until light and fluffy.
  2. Using a piping bag with a star tip, place batter into the bag until the bag is about half full. Twist bag shut and pipe rosettes on a Silpat lined baking sheet. Top each rosette with a piece of glace cherry. You may use colourful sprinkles if you wish. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the colour has changed slightly and the cookie has flattened.
  3. Let cool on the pan about five minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 4-5 dozen.

Recipe Notes

If you don't have Silpat liners, just use parchment.

Apple Caramel Oatmeal Bars

apple caramel barsJust last week was Guy Fawkes day.  It is an annual commemoration observed on November 5, primarily in Great Britain. Its history begins with the events of November 5, 1605, when Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London, and months later the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure.

Settlers who came over to Newfoundland brought this tradition of lighting bonfires and it has continued ever since.  The town of Grand Falls-Windsor hosts a bonfire night and it has become quite the celebration.  People donate their wood and paper and a large bonfire is created, safely away from people’s houses.  Bonfire night is another ‘old world’ tradition that Newfoundland keeps alive.

Some rural communities also have bonfires with no connection to Guy Fawkes.  There may be a connection to ancient pagan customs instead. In Great Britain fires would be lit for Samhain (pronounced Saw-win) to appease the Celtic gods and bring light back to the dying sun.  Samhain becomes our modern Halloween, so it’s easy for the bonfire tradition to blend together, being only five days apart.

Because I’ve been playing around with molasses and apples and made the apple pandowdy, I found another great recipe you can carry with you.  These apple caramel bars are perfect as a snack sitting by the bonfire or later in the year when your bonfire is indoors. (Note: I mean your fireplace.  Please, for the love of God, don’t make a bonfire in your house.  Are ya stunned?)  These bars are moist and chewy from the oatmeal and the molasses gives it that unique Newfoundland taste.

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, and baking soda in a bowl.  Add melted butter and molasses.  Mix until combined.  Press about half of the mixture into a parchment lined 9X13 pan.  Make sure to have the parchment come up the sides.  It will be easier to remove later.  Press down to make even layer, extending completely to all sides.  Bake for eight minutes.  Remove from oven to let cool slightly.

Peel, core, and slice apples.  I used Granny Smiths because I like the tartness against the sweetness of the molasses and caramel.  If you want to change it up, just make sure it’s a good baking apple.  Place apples on top of baked oatmeal layer.

Remove lid from caramel sauce and microwave for 30 seconds to one minute.  This will make it easier to pour over apples.  Use a glove to remove sauce from microwave.  This is warmed sugar.  It can get very warm.  Pour evenly over the apples.  If needed spread the sauce so it covers most of the apple layer.  I used President’s Choice Dulce de Leche sauce, but any caramel sauce will do.  Sobey’s has a Whiskey Caramel sauce which would be lovely.

Add remaining 1/2 cup flour to the leftover half of oatmeal mixture and combine.  Sprinkle topping on the caramel, remembering to cover all the dessert.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Let cool on rack completely before removing from pan.  If you like you can cool in the fridge and then cut.  If so, let it warm to room temperature before serving.  Enjoy as a bar, or cut larger pieces and serve with whipped cream.

Apple Caramel Oatmeal Bars

These bars are a great treat after a cold day. Sit by the fire and have a bite.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 32 bars

Ingredients

  • 2 cups All purpose flour
  • 2 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup butter melted
  • 1/2 cup fancy molasses
  • 3 cups apples sliced thinly
  • 1 jar caramel sauce
  • 1/2 cup All purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, and baking soda in large bowl or mixer.
  2. Melt butter in a microwave safe bowl. Add molasses to butter to combine. Add oatmeal/flour mixture and mix until no flour is showing.
  3. Press about half of the mixture into a prepare 9x13 pan lined with parchment. Make sure there's an even layer going all the way to the sides of the pan. Bake for eight minutes in a 350F oven. Remove and let cool slightly.
  4. Peel, core, and slice 3 cups of apples. Place sliced apples on cooled, baked oatmeal layer. Spread evenly.
  5. Microwave jarred caramel sauce until it's soft enough to pour: about 30 seconds to one minute. You want the sauce to still be thick, so soft enough to pour and spread. Pour evenly over apples.
  6. Add 1/2 cup flour to remained oatmeal mixture. Mix until flour is incorporated. Crumble mixture on top of caramel/apples layer. Make sure to coat evenly and cover the top completely. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool completely before cutting into bars. Makes 32.

Apple Pandowdy

One of the things I love about the fall is the crispness that’s in the air.  It’s cool enough that you’ll still need a jacket, but not so cold that you need to bundled up to the gills.  That will come later.

canopy
Can you find my dog?

I took advantage of the lovely weather and took the dog for a little walk.  Nearby there’s a series of trails one can take.  Each trail varies in length from just under one kilometer to over three kilometers.  So not to long that halfway through you’re wondering “Why did I start this stupid hike in the first place?” The forest trails are a great place to contemplate life, or just enjoy the beautiful hues of red, orange, and yellow.

Another great thing about fall is apples.  Yes, you can get apples all year ’round now, but fall there an abundance of great varieties that you usually don’t see for the rest of the year.  So, instead of just settling for the usual Gala, Red Delicious, or Granny Smith, there are great ones like Ambrosia, Honeycrisp, or Northern Spy.

As I was researching the previous post about molasses, I found a Apple Pandowdywonderful recipe called Apple Pandowdy.  It was printed in my copy of the all New Purity Cookbook.  This cookbook has been around Newfoundland kitchens for decades.  My grandmother has a well worn copy in her kitchen and I have mine.  I highly recommend it if you want a cookbook that will give the basics of cooking as well as a little bit of history.  Purity is a company in Newfoundland which makes a variety of desserts and snacks, and many other goodies.  Any Newfoundlander will tell you stories about growing up chewing on a piece of hard tack or jam-jams.

I’ve adapted the recipe from the one in the Purity Cookbook.  The great thing about this recipe is you can make it a day in advance and it won’t affect the taste in the slightest.  In fact it may be better.  The flavours would have had a chance to meld and blend and the sauce will be slightly less runny.

Molasses mixture
Sauce before mixing

First preheat your oven to 375F.   Then make the sauce.  Combine the molasses, flour, salt, and cinnamon in a saucepan.  Add one cup of water and heat on medium until the sauce thickens.  It should take five minutes or so.  Remove from the heat. Then add the butter one piece at a time and stir with a whisk until the butter is melted.  I cut my butter into four pieces so it would melt a little faster.  The add the vanilla and lemon juice.  The sauce should be thick, like a caramel.

Peeled apples
Peeled apples

Peel and slice 4 cups of apples.  I used four, but you may need more or less depending on the size of the apples.  Place in a greased 9 inch square baking dish.  Pour the sauce on the apples, trying to cover them completely.

Creamy sauce on apples
Creamy sauce on apples

Now to make the topping.  Add the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.  Cut in the butter.  This is the same thing as when I made the scones, but the butter pieces should be finer.  Add the milk and beaten egg and combine.  The batter should be thick.

Biscuit topping
Biscuit topping

Scoop on top of the apples and spread out to cover the top.  Place in the center of the preheated oven and bake for 35-45 minutes.

Let cool slightly before serving.  The crust can be “dowdied” or broken into smaller pieces and then served. Great with whipped cream or ice cream.

Look at that amazing creamy sauce.  The molasses gives it that unique taste of Newfoundland without making it too sweet.  The crust is fluffy and light and soaks up the sauce beautifully.  The perfect dessert after a crisp fall walk through the woods.

Enjoy this wonderful apple pandowdy!
Enjoy this wonderful apple pandowdy!

Apple Pandowdy

A rustic apple dessert with a lovely drop biscuit crust.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Servings 6 servings

Ingredients

Sauce

  • 1/2 cup fancy molasses
  • 1/4 cup All purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 4 cups apples peeled and sliced. Use baking apples for firmer texture.

Biscuit topping

  • 1 1/4 cups All purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup butter cold and cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk

Instructions

  1. Blend together in a saucepan the molasses, flour, salt, and cinnamon. Add the water and heat on medium until mixture has come to a boil and thickened slightly. Remove from heat and add the butter pieces one piece at a time until each one is melted. Add vanilla and lemon juice.
  2. Peel and slice 4 cups of apples. Slices can be about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange apple slices in a greased 9" square baking dish which is at least 2" deep.
  3. Pour sauce over apples, making sure to cover the apples as much as possible.
  4. Prepare biscuit dough. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut in butter pieces with a pastry cutter or two forks, until the butter is finely incorporated. Add the milk and beaten egg and mix to make a soft dough batter. Drop with a spoon over fruit mixture. Spread evenly but do not stir.
  5. Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 35-45 minutes until crust in golden brown. Cool slighty but serve warm. Makes 6 servings.

Cranberry Cinnamon Scones

If you are ever visiting friends or family on the island be ready to stay a while.  Newfoundlanders are the most welcoming and friendly folk.  More often than not you’ll hear these words or something close to it:

“D’jeet yet?”

“Any in ya?”

For the mainlander unaccustomed to the Newfoundland vernacular, let me explain.  The first is “Did you eat yet?” and the second is similar; asking if you had anything to eat lately.  It would be considered poor hospitality if someone who was visiting went away hungry.

While the conversation flows someone would put the kettle on to start water for tea, or, if you’re lucky, the tea would still be there from the morning’s brew.  Newfoundlanders like their tea strong.  It wouldn’t be unheard of to have a kettle on the stove with two or three bags thrown in and then another added every once in a while if the flavour goes down a bit.

When I was a kid I would have my tea in the morning for breakfast, fortified with two large teaspoons of sugar and enough milk added to make the tea a light caramel colour.  It almost more milk than tea, but it suited me fine.

The next would be “Giv’us a biscuit.”  And the platter of homemade biscuits would come out.  Tea biscuits would be the most common.  Sometimes they would made freehand or rolled out and cut out with a small glass dipped in flour.  It would be heaven to get one just out of the oven and covered in butter.  20161019_140914

For special occasions you would get a scone.  These are a bit more rich, being made with egg.  That’s the recipe I’ve made today.  Because the days are getting cooler, and I love the warmth of cinnamon, I’ve decided to make cranberry cinnamon scones.   These have a light taste of cinnamon combined with the sweet tangy cranberries.  You could use raisins if you like.

Preheat your oven to 450F and combine your flour, salt, baking powder,
sugar, 20161019_124555and cinnamon.  Cut in the butter.  You can use a pastry fork, two regular forks, or your hands.  I like to use my hands because I can feel the flour coating the butter pieces.  Plus I find it mixes more evenly this way.

BTW, this is a great starter recipe for children.  They love to get their hands into things and would love to feel the soft butter squish between their fingers.  I would recommend supervision, of course.20161019_125207

Add the cranberries and toss to coat.  In a small bowl combine the egg and milk and beat together.  Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add the wet ingredients.  Using one hand, mix together.  I suggest one hand because this will be the time the phone will ring and then you’ll have a clean hand to answer it.  Mix until it forms a soft dough.  Turn out onto floured surface.  Hand form into a circle about 12″ in diameter.  Cut into 20161019_130824eighths.

Place onto greased cookie sheet or parchment or Silpat.  I like to have them separated a little so there’s enough room to grow and the sides get a crust.  You can place them together more if you like the sides softer.  Brush with milk and added crystalized sugar.  This is larger than granulated sugar and should be available at most grocery stores.  I got mine at Bulk Barn.

Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 450 oven until golden.  Let cool and serve with butter and jam.  Enjoy with your favourite tea.  Any in ya, yet?20161019_140855

Cranberry Cinnamon Scones

Cranberry Cinnamon Scones - perfect for a cool fall day.
Course Breakfast
Cuisine British, Canadian, English
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 8 pieces

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup All purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter cold, cut into small 1/4" pieces
  • 1/2 cup craisins Can use raisins instead
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450F Blend or sift together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Cut in finely the cold butter. Add craisins and toss gently to coat. 

  2. Combine egg and milk. Add to dry ingredients and combine together until a soft dough forms. 

  3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface a knead gently 6-8 times. Form into circle about 12" in diameter and 1/2" thick. Cut into eight wedges. 

  4. Place on greased baking sheet or Silpat. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes. Yield 8 scones.