Monday, February 18, 2008

Vanilla Shortbread & The Simple Pleasure in Life


Not long before I went on vacation, I chanced upon Claire Clark's Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts on the library's new arrival shelf. I was immediately attracted by the luscious chocolate cake on the cover and had to add it to my avalanche of checkout books.

It was only after reading the foreword, by the much celebrated and revered chef, which also happens to be Clark's employer, Chef Thomas Keller, had I known that Claire Clark is the pastry chef of the extraordinary, award winning, and the best restaurant in the United State- French Laundry.I am so ignorant!


Flipping through the brilliantly written book have me craving to conquer each and everyone one of the gorgeous creations in my tiny kitchen. I wanted to make the Red Wine and Chocolate Cake, Green tea Tiramisu, Rich chocolate ganache tart with salted caramel and candied peanuts, Opera and basically all the rest of the recipes.

But there's a technical problem. All the recipes in the book are written in weight measurement. Clark explains that it is the most accurate way to measure and I couldn't agree more. But an accurate weighing scale is one of the appliance that my tiny kitchen lacks. I was going to buy one months ago, but was promptly distracted to make other purchases and totally forgot about the scale!


With that, all the ambitious attempts have to put on a hold. But I hate to return the book without making a recipe from it. Especially a great book like this. So, I make the first recipe on the book- the Shortbread, which according to Chef Thomas Keller, is what he craves upon returning the restaurant from a trip.

An endorsement like that is undoubtedly assuring. I did a not-too-accurate weght to cup conversion of the recipe and proceeded gingerly. The Shortbread recipe from Clark's mum is simple yet wonderful. As I rubbed the butter with my fingertips into the dry ingredients, my hands were perfumed with the sweet scene of vanilla beans, an aromatic yet satisfying process. All one needs to make the shortbread is just a mixing bowl, a pair of willing hands and a weighing scale (or measuring cups in my case). I am once again reminded that my hands are my most adaptable and flexible tool I have.


The Shortbread was nice when it was fresh from the oven, but I am happy to report that it tasted better after 1 to 2 days of sitting. That is definitely a desirable property in my book. The Shortbread is indeed indulgence in its simplest form.

I packed half of the shortbread with the cookies bag my friend- Happy Home Baking sent me. I wish I could send the cookies to her, but I doubt the delicate shortbread could make it to Singapore un-crumbled. So, they were given to a friend who dropped by my place one night.

adapted from Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts

225g/8 oz all purpose flour
75g/2 3/4 oz confectioners' sugar
1 vanilla pod
150g/ 5 1/2 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g/1 3/4oz granulated sugar , for dusting

(my not very accurate ingredient list in cup measurement)
1 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 vanilla pod
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
granulated sugar , for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350F. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the confectioners' sugar. Using a sharp knife, slit the vanilla pod open lengthways and scrape out the seeds with the tip of the knife. Add the seeds to the bowl, along with the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the dry ingredient. As the mixture begins to come together, use your hands to help it form a dough (alternatively, you could use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment on a low speed to make the dough.)

Shape the dough into a ball and flatten it slightly. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 1cm/1/2 inch thick. Cut into 15 oblongs and place them on abaking sheet lined with baking parchment.

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the baking sheet around and continue baking for 10 minutes, until the shortbread is golden brown. Remove from the oven and dust with an even coating of granulated sugar. Leave on the baking sheet to cool.

Make 15-16 shortbread fingers.


Manggy said...

Wow, that's awesome. I've been searching for that book for a while. I hope you get to make more stuff out of it in the near future.

I would definitely not want to go back to mandatory cup measures. I translate the recipes I use to weight measures, it surely makes everything go by much faster and makes it much easier to double or halve a recipe :)

Stardust said...

Hi Mandy,

Wow, you sure do rush to bake again. Looking forward to your try on Red Wine and Chocolate Cake, Green tea Tiramisu, Rich chocolate ganache tart with salted caramel and candied peanuts, Opera and more!

Growl... I get hungry when I think of those.

Sent a mail to you this afternoon. Hope that it reaches you.

Happy Baking & Blogging.

Manggy said...

By the way, Mandy, I gave you an award on my blog :)

Anonymous said...

The shortbread looks so buttery and lovely :)

Cannelle Et Vanille said...

This looks lovely! I just ordered Indulge so I should be getting it soon, I can't wait! Your photos are so great also.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I've been visiting your blog for a couple of months. A nice collection of recipes you have. And these shortbreads looks good. =)

Anonymous said...

Great presentation and delicious shorbreads. They are simply adorable :-)

Piggy said...

i love shortbread! how i wish i could have a few pieces to nibble right now.. ;-)

Veron said...

Oh Mandy, we must have been on the same wavelength. I just made her carrot cake ...although I made them into cupcakes. I can't wait to try shortbread...they always do taste better after 1 or 2 days , don't they?

Kajal@aapplemint said...

I must confess i use weight measurements too. Cuz cup sizes differ and there are chances of going wrong. Besides American cup measures are not easy to find and i'm so comfortable with the metric system.

The vanilla shortbread sounds so wonderful. I'm sure your hand smelt gr8 all day long, surprised someone did'nt bite them off :P

Patricia Scarpin said...

These look so spectacular! I have never tried making shortbread at home, and this would be a wonderful way to start.

Deborah said...

I just bought a scale last month, but I haven't had a good opportunity to use it. I will have to look for that book - it sounds amazing - and this shortbread looks amazing!

Jessy and her dog Winnie said...

Wow those look great! i love how you can see the specks of vanilla!

Renee said...

Hi Mandy,

Wow, your shortbread cookies look divine! After reading your blog, I immediately ordered that cookbook. I can't wait to get it. I also love your photos, they are stunning.


Happy Homebaker said...

Hi Mandy, just want to let you know that you have been tagged ;). check it out here:

Chibog in Chief said...

these shortbread sounds perfect for those little tea breaks in the afternoon :-)

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Good shortbread is hard to beat. This looks lovely.

Farhan said...

I bought half a kilo of vanilla pods from Bali! That translates to like 100+ pods.. These would be perfect!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I know it's not the smartest thing, but I'm trying to make something for my friend's birthday... and it's tomorrow. I was wondering what the approximate amount of vanilla extract you could use in this recipe instead of vanilla bean? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

i have to try this recipe. i LOVE shortbread.

Emily said...

I love shortbread! So simple, yet it tastes so good.
I'm glad it worked out ok, without a scale.
The pictures are beautiful! (Of course)

Mandy said...

I know what you mean, I am in the process of procuring a reliable scale now :)And thanks for the award and the nice thing you said, you are too nice to me. :)

checked and replied. :)

thanks.I actually thought I didn't capture the shortbread well.

aran goyoaga,
how exciting! Let me know if you make when you make something from the book, ok?

thanks for visiting!

joanna in the kitchen,

I would pass you some without hesitation if we were in the same city. :)

it just shows that great minds think alike! Isn't that a great book?

yup, i agree that the weight measurements are more reliable. That's why I am getting a scale now. :)

I hope you get to try making shortbread one day. it's really wonderful!


you have sharp eyes!

thanks! I love you love the book as much as I do.

happy home baker,
ok....I try, although I really suck at doing meme.



wow~that is a lot of vanilla pods! Are they cheaper in Bali?

hmmm. i think the vanilla flavor may not be the same with extract. However, if you must, try using 1 tablespoon of the vanilla extract.

let me know how it turns out for you if you try!

I am glad that the shortbread recipe is quite forgiving. A pinch of flour more or less doesn't affect the final outcome much. :)

Anonymous said...

They're $25, so yes, loads loads cheaper..

PS. my latest post is inspired by this post..

MPG said...

Yum! These looks so simple & yummy...I'll have to try sometime.

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