High Country Baking: Holiday shortbread
High Country Baking
Festive, pretty and delicious — this sandwiched shortbread is one of my favorite holiday pastries. Delicate vanilla-flavored dough is pressed into the bottom of a round pan, crowned with raspberry jam and a sprinkling of grated chocolate, topped with the same dough, and decorated for Christmas with cut-out stars. There’s a delightful play between the tastes and textures of the soft, sweet jam and the crumbly crust in every bite. And it’s versatile: You can serve it as a cookie or present it on a plate, either alone or with a little whipped cream as a dessert.
Recipe works at any elevation. Make in an 8-inch springform or tart pan with a removable bottom.
- 1 1/3 cups bleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick plus 2 tablespoons), cold
- 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
- 1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
- 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, grated (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the center position. Lightly grease the pan and line it with plastic wrap, letting the wrap hang over the pan’s edges so you can use it as handles. Set the pan aside.
To make with a food processor: Place the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to combine well. Cut the butter into at least 10 pieces and add them along with the vanilla. Process until large, moist clumps of dough form, but stop before the dough forms a ball on the top of the blade. To make with a mixer or by hand: Cut the butter into pieces, place them in a mixing bowl, let them soften, and then beat until creamy and light in color. Add the sugar, salt and vanilla and beat until well mixed. Slowly add the flour, stirring until just combined and a dough forms.
Turn the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Knead gently several times until smooth. Divide it in half (I do this by weighing it on a kitchen scale). Set one half aside and press the other half into the bottom of the plastic wrap-lined pan, leveling and smoothing it. Place the pan in the freezer for about five minutes or the refrigerator for double that time, until the dough in the pan is quite firm but not stiff. Using the plastic wrap handles, carefully lift the dough circle out of the pan, place it on a flat plate, put it back in the refrigerator (it will become the top of the sandwich), and lightly cover it with the plastic wrap.
Press the remaining half of the dough into the greased pan bottom, smoothing and leveling it as you go. If it’s quite soft, chill it until it’s firm but not hard. Stir the raspberry jam until it is smooth (you might need to warm it slightly to do so). Spread it to within a half-inch of the edges of the dough in the pan. If you’re using it, sprinkle the grated chocolate over the jam.
Remove the refrigerated dough circle and use a knife or a straight-edged ruler to gently score it (don’t cut through it) into eight equal-sized wedges. Optional: Using a tiny star cookie cutter, and cut stars out of four of them. Leave at least one half-inch of dough on all sides of each cut-out shape or the dough may tear while being moved and baked. Place the cut-out stars on a plate and refrigerate them. If the dough circle has softened so much that it’s hard to handle, place it back in the freezer or refrigerator to firm up.
Carefully place the dough circle on top of the filling. (I lift it with a large cake spatula or the removable bottom of a tart pan.) Place the dough stars on the undecorated wedges, and gently press them so they stick to the dough. Firmly press the edges of the two dough rounds together with a fork to seal them. Bake the shortbread for about 35-40 minutes, until the dough is set and just starting to color and the edges have darkened a bit. Remove to a cooling rack and cool completely before cutting along the scored lines. Store, covered, in a cool place for up to five days.
Editor’s note: This recipe is a variation of one published in “Shortbread” by Jan Johnson.
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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