Thursday, June 18, 2009

Baking Class: Pistachio Shortbread

For someone who has not historically done much baking, I have accumulated quite a few baking cookbooks over the years. This is a good thing now that I have dedicated myself to the more precise side of the kitchen arts. Some would say finicky; you can't play fast and loose with flour, oil and baking powder the way you can with onions, garlic, carrots and celery.

In general, I would place myself squarely within the parameters of the cook, as opposed to the baker. I'm much more comfortable throwing in a splash of this or a dash of that, without having to worry that my stovetop will explode. I was never good at chemistry, and that is mostly what baking is. If you get the wrong ratio of liquid to dry to leavening, your oven very well *may* explode. So there is a lot of measuring, and weighing of ingredients, and adding them in a specific order, and cooking for an exact amount of time. In other words, a lot of room for error.

But I have been learning, and improving. As with any other skill, the best way to learn it is to do it, and to keep doing it until it becomes familiar. Each recipe teaches me something new, and it is something that I can then apply to the next recipe. I am becoming a more accomplished baker, although I think I will always lean more toward cooking than baking.

So I am happy that I have accumulated some baking books along the way. Two that stand out are Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited, from where I got the recipe for these delicious Sesame Seed Wafers, and The Good Cookie, by Tish Boyle. They are quite similar, even down to how they are arranged, and have a lot of the same recipes. So I thought it would be a good idea to test recipes from both books to see how they compare.

I still have a good amount of pistachios in the pantry, and have been looking for ways to use them. So my eye was caught by a recipe in The Good Cookie for pistachio shortbread cookies. I had all of the ingredients in the pantry.

I haven't made roll cookies in a long time, so I was a little nervous about tackling them. But the recipe was clear and everything went smoothly. It's funny that I've made pistachio meal twice in the same year. It worked well both times, but this is much sweeter.

These cookies are delicious. The pistachio flavor comes through, and adds a textural component that makes the cookie melt-in-your-mouth tender. They are absolutely addictive.

So far, I have made one cookie from each cookie cookbook, and both turned out well. I will have to test more recipes from each before I can determine which one I think is better.

I rolled out half of the cookie dough and cooked it right away. I froze the rest and rolled that dough out on another day. The second batch was just as flaky, tender, and tasty as the first.
Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies

Makes about 46 cookies

1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios*
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 deg. F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.

Place the pistachios and 1/4 cup of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground, about 30 seconds. Add the flour, cornstarch, and salt and pulse until blended. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar at medium-high speed until l ight, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yold and mix at low speed until
blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the dry ingredients, mixing until combined.

Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and knead it a few times, until smooth. Divide it in half and shape each half into a disk.

Place one of the disks on a large piece of waxed paper, place another piece of waxed paper over it, and, using a rolling pin, roll it out to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Carefullh peel off the top piece of waxed paper, then replace it loosely and flip over the dough. Peel off the second piece of waxed paper. Using a 2-inch fluted or scalloped round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible from the dough. Arrange the cookies 1/2 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Gather up the scraps and reroll them between sheets of waxed paper.

Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 13 to 16 minutes, until just lightly colored around the edges. Watch the cookies carefully, as their color will change very quickly. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

*According to the recipe, if you can only find salted nuts, place them in a sieve and rinse under cold running water. Dry them thoroughly with paper towels. I just used the salted ones without rinsing them and they came out fine.

The Good Cookie, by Tish Boyle (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002).

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

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