I'm not sure I have ever told you this, but I am a total NPR nerd. I listen to it every time I am in the car. I love it because while it is a news source, I am just as likely to get a human interest story about bird watching or a quick lecture on the negative effects of plutonium in my water source. I realize that makes me not very fun sounding. But, maybe the following will make up for that.
NPR does this great segment called Found Recipes on All Things Considered. Whenever I happen to catch it, I am always pleased by the fact that though the recipe may not be for a food I’ve recently been dreaming about, it’s almost always for something I am interested in making. And usually, it’s a quintessential recipe – the one passed down for generations or found in the remote corners of Uzbekistan.
This is one of my favorite recipes from that series. It’s for shortbread – perfect, crumbly, buttery shortbread. The story is told by twin sisters who are, I believe, in their eighties. But the recipe is even older, as it was one passed down to them by a neighbor who'd gotten it from her mother...or, ya know, something like that. The sisters sound like the Long Island version of my own Jewish aunties, which also makes this story kind of funny, as shortbread belongs to Scotts and Christmas, in my mind. That's ok, though. The recipe is fabulously easy and yields wonderful results making it a keeper for food baskets and holiday treats (now that Halloween is over, it is safe to start talking about those things, isn't it..?).
Word to the wise: don't bake this alone. Or you'll be like Miranda on that Sex and the City episode where she literally has to squirt dish soap on the sheet cake she already threw in the garbage to keep from spooning bits of it into her mouth every time she walks by. Damn warm, cooked butter smell.
The Brass’ Sisters’ Favorite Holiday Shortbread
1 C unsalted butter, not too soft but not ice cold either.
½ C sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 C flour
Grated zest of 1 orange (optional)
1 tsp orange extract (optional - can substitute almond or vanilla here, if you want)
Set oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350 F. Line bottom and sides of 9 x 9 inch pan with foil and grease with butter or vegetable spray.
Add flour and salt to mixing bowl and whisk to combine, then set aside.
Cream butter with sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add orange zest, if using, then extract. Add dry ingredients, ½ cup at a time, beating just until dough comes together. Don’t overbeat or you will get tough shortbread.
Gently pat into prepared pan and press down edges with tines of a fork. Prick top of dough in an even pattern all over, approximately 20-25 times per their recipe.
Bake shortbread 35 minutes, until lightly browned on top, then let cool on a rack about 20-25 minutes, or until just slightly warm. Score with knife into 1 x 2 inch pieces, but don’t cut all the way through just yet.
Let cool completely, then cut into pieces along scored lines. Store in covered tin between sheets of wax paper, at room temp. Can store in fridge, too, which will make it a bit firmer but still delicious.