High Country Baking: Buttery & nutty shortbread
Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. 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 to make baking in the mountains successful.
I’m always looking for recipes that, once made, I can use several ways. That’s why I love these Hazelnut Blossoms. They’re pleasing little shortbreads, tender and sandy in texture, buttery and nutty in taste, and they’re equally good unadorned, filled (these have a Nutella filling), or topped with a drizzle of chocolate. I make one cookie and use it numerous different ways. No wonder I keep a batch of them in my freezer.
The nutty flavor comes from hazelnut flour/meal. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s hazelnuts, ground to a powder, and sold commercially (I use Bob’s Red Mill brand) in health food stores and many grocery stores.
Select a cutter with a simple shape for this cookie; it may spread slightly which could distort an intricate design.
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The unfilled cookies can be stored for about five days at cool room temperature and freeze beautifully for up to six weeks. The filled cookies have a shorter shelf life and don’t do well in the freezer.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Makes about 4 dozen single one-and-a-half inch cookies,
2 dozen sandwich cookies
¾ cup plus 1 (one) tablespoon of bleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
A pinch of salt
¼ cup of superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
2 ounces of hazelnut flour/meal (two-thirds of a cup)
6 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter
½ teaspoon of vanilla
About ½ cup of Nutella
Optional Chocolate Glaze
2 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon of Canola or other mild vegetable oil.
Step One: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil. Don’t grease them or the cookies might spread.
Step Two: Place the flour, cornstarch, salt, superfine granulated sugar, and hazelnut flour in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine well. Cut the cold butter into half-inch pieces and add it, along with the vanilla, to the bowl of the processor. Pulse until the dough forms large, moist curds. Stop before the dough is smooth or forms a ball.
Step Three: Dump the dough onto a sheet of waxed paper and gently knead it into a disk about six inches in diameter. Refrigerate it until it is firm enough to roll easily. Roll it out until it is three-eighths to one-fourth of an inch thick (I place it between two sheets of waxed paper to roll it). Using a one-and-a-half inch cookie cutter, cut out the cookies and transfer them to the cookie sheet(s), putting them about three-quarters of an inch apart. Place the cookies, on the baking sheet, in the freezer for about 5 minutes, until they are quite firm (this will help prevent spreading while they bake). Bake until they are set and just start to color, reversing the pan about half way through their time in the oven. Depending on the cookies’ thickness, size, and firmness, this can take from about 13-18 minutes, so rely on their looks rather than on a specified amount of baking time. Remove the cookies from the oven, let them sit on the baking sheet for several minutes, and then carefully transfer them to a rack to cool completely.
Step Four: Gather the dough scraps into a disc, refrigerate it until it is firm enough to roll, and repeat the process described in step three.
Step Five: (optional) Fill the cookies: Form pairs, matching them by size and shape. Stir the Nutella to loosen it; if necessary, warm it slightly so it will spread easily. Place about a teaspoon of the filling on the underside of one of the matched cookies, spread it almost to its edges, and top it with the other cookie (underside down). Continue until you’ve filled all the cookies.
Step Six: (optional) Glaze the cookies: Chop the chocolate into very small pieces, place them in a microwave-safe container, and melt them in the microwave at a low temperature. (I use #4, in a range from 1-10, for one minute bursts, stirring after each minute in the microwave, until the chocolate is almost entirely melted. I remove it at this point and stir until it is smooth and all lumps are gone.). Add the teaspoon of oil, stir to combine thoroughly, and let the mixture cool and thicken slightly. To drizzle cookies with chocolate: Dip the prongs of a fork in the melted chocolate mixture and move it back and forth quickly above the cooled cookies. Let the cookies rest until the chocolate is set. You may place them in the refrigerator to speed up this process.
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