An alternative title for this post could be: WRITE NOTES IN YOUR COOKBOOKS, MORON.
In my defense I hadn’t made lavender shortbread in years, and from the actual cookbook the recipe came from in many years longer than that. I hand-copied out a quadrupled version for commercial production nearly ten years ago, and haven’t looked at the original since.
The book is Susan Herrmann Loomis’ Farmhouse Cookbook, and my copy is so well-used that some pages are permanently stuck together. I can’t tell you how many recipes in here have become my standards, but I can say that the recipe for ‘Barbara Fischer’s Whoopie Pies’¹ alone makes it a worthwhile purchase.
Anyway, shortbread. The recipe is ‘Herbfarm Rosemary Shortbread’ and the recipe is very nearly not shortbread at all. The inclusion of rice flour makes the texture not that familiar sandy, firm bite of a Walker’s Shortbread, but a very fragile, tender and light alternative. (The color also stays a pallid, Victorian-bosom white.) And though I’ve made the recipe probably hundreds of times, I still read through the original recipe with fresh eyes.
At the bakery we’d always weighed out the cookies ball by individual ball, smashing them with a mallet (true!) and generous coatings of granulated sugar before they went into the oven. It was the fastest way to make them. Now – alone in my house and the master of my own cookies – I wanted fingers of shortbread, but since the dough felt too soft and that struck me as vaguely familiar, I refrigerated the dough and came back to cut it an hour later.
The dough itself is barely sweetened, and the cookies themselves rely on a coating of extra sugar. If you really want a nearly-unsweetened cookie, this part can be skipped.
At this point, I’m not going to lie. I’m proud of myself. These are fine cookies, and there was a reason Grandma River loved them.
When baking, their perfume is pure sex. The fatty odor of the butter is tempered by the peculiar dusty sweetness of the lavender, producing this big, round globe of scent. Perfume aficionados talk about “gourmand” perfumes – those with food-like odors. But there’s no opposite version for cooking, and there should be. The lavender shortbread is a food odor that ambles slowly from digestible to wearable, until the only explanation is that a gorgeous French woman wearing only a satin chemise has been baking cookies in your house, her arcane perfume mingling with those of the oven.
And then, I checked on them. And burst out laughing.
I remember why the softness seemed vaguely familiar. The shortbread are too soft. I had increased the flour to keep them from pooling and those notes are back in Washington state. Result: unsightly lavender blobs.
That taste astonishing, anyway. I just wouldn’t send them to Grandma, were she here.
Lavender Shortbread, Adjusted
as you might imagine from the original title, these shortbread are also good with fresh rosemary – to be totally honest, I have a hard time deciding which of the two herbs i prefer most. the recipe also suggests mint or thyme, and again – just lovely. any resinous herb will work. and do not be tempted to increase the quantity of lavender – lavender flowers can be bitter in concentration. look for organic lavender or lavender intended for human consumption – don’t just empty out a panty sachet or something.
1 ½ sticks (6oz) of butter, softened, but firmer than room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp dried lavender
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour (white or brown)
1/4 tsp. salt
additional sugar for the tops of the cookies
- Cream the butter on medium speed until very pale and smooth. Add the sugar slowly at low speed, then increase to medium again until very fluffy and light, about 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and mix on low until just bound together. It will take a few minutes. If your kitchen is at all warm, place the dough in the fridge for 10 to 30 minutes before continuing.
- Form the dough into small, thick patties about 1 ½ inches across and ½ inch thick. Dip the tops into granulated sugar, then place on a cookie sheet with at least 1 inch of room between each cookie (12 to a sheet is good).
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges have just begun to turn golden brown. The rest of the cookie will be almost white.
- The cookies are very fragile, so allow them to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. As is so often the case, I prefer them either straight from the oven or after they’ve had a chance to sit in an airtight container or plastic bag for 24 hours.
I will be making these again soon, and will share photos of what they are supposed to look like.
¹Which I discovered way before the whoopie pie craze swept the nation, and I say this not with smugness, but with a certain level of resignation — explaining to customers what whoopie pies were was a lesson in smiling even when you’ve heard a joke one thousand million times. The recipe also calls for not a marshmallow creme center, but a peculiar buttercream made with lemon juice and raw egg whites, the texture of which becomes both fluffy and creamy in a way that to this day boggles my mind.