High Altitude Baking: Danube shortbread squares (recipe)
High Country Baking
Editor’s note: High altitude 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.
I’ve never met a shortbread I didn’t like, and I’m closely acquainted with more of them than I can count. Yet, in that plethora, this one stands out. It’s exceptionally tender and buttery and uses an unusual and highly-effective technique (grating the dough into the pan) to produce a wonderfully ethereal texture. The recipe, which I found years ago in “Baking with Julia,” calls the cookie Hungarian, so I assume the use of the grater originated in Eastern Europe.
To get the best results, use high-quality butter and touch the dough as little as possible. Feel free to substitute another preserve or jam, just be sure it’s thick and flavorful.
Danube shortbread squares
(Make in an 8-by-8-inch square metal baking pan.)
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
1 teaspoon baking powder
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large egg yolks
1 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
About ¾ cup of cherry preserves or jam
About ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
Step 1: Line the pan with nonstick or regular aluminum foil, letting it extend several inches beyond two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked slab of cookies. If using regular foil, grease it well with a vegetable oil-flour spray. Set aside.
Step 2: Add the flour, baking powder and salt to a bowl, and whisk vigorously to aerate and combine. Set aside.
Step 3: Cut the butter into pieces, place in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale and creamy. Add the egg yolks and sugar, and beat again until creamy and light. Add the dry ingredients, and, on the mixer’s lowest speed, mix only until blended.
Step 4: Turn the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper and gently knead once or twice (No more or it will toughen). Cut it in half, shape each half into a disc, wrap each disc in plastic wrap and freeze for about an hour, or until firm. (At this point, you can freeze the dough for a month; thaw in the refrigerator.)
Step 5: About 30 minutes before continuing with the recipe, preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Remove one dough disc from the freezer, and use the large holes of a box grater to grate the dough into the prepared pan. Without compressing it, gently spread the grated dough until it’s even and level.
Step 6: Warm the preserves slightly (Make sure they’re not too hot or they’ll melt the butter in the dough) and spoon small, quarter-sized mounds evenly all over the dough, covering as much of it as possible. Gently spread the mounds as far as you can without pressing down on the dough. It’s okay if small spots of the dough remain exposed; the preserves will spread further during baking. Grate the remaining dough disc over the preserves, and distribute it evenly without pressing it down.
Step 7: Bake until the top is golden, about 40 minutes. Remove to a rack, and immediately strain confectioners’ sugar all over the warm top. Cool completely, use the foil handles to remove the slab from the pan, and cut it into squares. Dust with additional confectioners’ sugar before serving. The cookies will keep for two days at cool room temperature and freeze well.
Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and The Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. 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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