High Country Baking: Irish Whiskey Shortbread Wedges (column)
March 14, 2018
High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Here's a dessert that's perfect for St. Patrick's Day: a homey, robust shortbread, featuring oatmeal, dried fruit, brown sugar and Irish whiskey. Serve it warm and Irish eyes will surely be smiling. Cut it into large wedges, top it with ice cream and present it as a dessert or slice it into narrow wedges and offer it as a cookie.
It comes together with ease. Only caution: Don't overbake it, unlike many shortbreads, this one should be moist and chewy rather than crisp. If you can't find dried pears, golden raisins or dried apricots can stand in for them. The whiskey flavor is mild; if you're after a stronger hit, add the optional Irish Whiskey Sauce.
Irish Whiskey Shortbread Wedges
Make in an 8-inch shiny metal springform pan
Yields 6 dessert wedges or 12 cookies
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1/2 cup mixed dried pears and dried cherries (about a quarter cup of each)
3 tablespoons Irish whiskey
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), cut into 16 pieces
3/4 cup old fashioned or quick-cooking oats (don't use instant)
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons Irish whiskey
Vanilla ice cream (optional)
Irish whiskey Sauce (optional)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker's
2-3 tablespoons Irish whiskey
Toasted Pecans, finely chopped, optional
1. Preheat the oven to 300 with a rack in the center position. If using a springform pan, open it, flip the bottom over, so the lip is facing down and re-lock it in place (this makes it easier to remove the baked slab of cookies). Grease whichever pan you're using with a flour-vegetable oil baking spray.
2. Cut the dried pears and cherries into pieces no larger than 1/4- inch cubes. (I do this this with kitchen scissors greased with vegetable oil.) Combine the cut-up fruit and 3 tablespoons of whiskey in a small microwave-safe bowl, cover and microwave for a minute or two at medium temperature until it is quite warm but not boiling. This softens the fruit and allows it to absorb the whiskey. Set the bowl aside to cool slightly.
3. To make in a food processor: Add the brown sugar, salt and flour to the bowl and pulse to combine well. Add the vanilla and butter and pulse again, until small, moist clumps form. Add the oats and pulse until large clumps/a shaggy dough develops. Add the dried fruit and whiskey and pulse only until the fruit is evenly distributed in the dough. To make with a mixer: Place the pieces of butter in a medium-sized bowl, let them come to room temperature, and beat until lightened. Add the brown sugar gradually and continue to beat until light and fluffy, then add the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and take several minutes to complete this step. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and oatmeal. Gradually add them to the butter and mix just until combined. The dough will not be smooth but rather in large clumps. Stir in the dried fruit and whiskey.
4. Press the dough into the prepared pan. Use your hands to smooth and distribute it evenly in the pan. If the dough sticks to your hands, place a piece of plastic wrap over the dough and press through it. Bake until set, golden, with slightly darker edges, and spongey when touched (about 40-45 minutes). Don't overbake; you want the shortbread to be soft and chewy
5. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. Make the glaze: Beat the confectioner's sugar and two tablespoons of whiskey in a small bowl until the sugar is fully dissolved and the glaze is thin and smooth. After the shortbread has cooled about four minutes, brush the warm top with glaze, using it all. After about 15 minutes, while still warm, cut the shortbread into six or 12 wedges. Allow it to cool completely, remove the pan sides and re-cut the wedges. Store, covered, at cool room temperature for three days or freeze for 6 weeks. Serve warm; reheat it in a 300 degree oven.
6. Optional Irish Whiskey Sauce: Warm the butter and corn syrup over low-medium heat until the butter is almost fully melted. Stir in the sugar, bring the mixture to a low boil and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat, stir in two tablespoons of the Irish whiskey and let cool. Taste, and add more whiskey if desired. Store, covered, in the fridge for up to three days. Warm before serving. Top larger dessert wedges with a scoop of ice cream, a drizzle of sauce and a sprinkle a few chopped pecans, if desired.
Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks Baking Above It All and Cookies in the Clouds, (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a high-altitude baking teacher. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.
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