with apricot & scotch bonnet filling
"Hungarian Shortbread" from Dorie Greenspan's Baking With Julia (pp 327-328): these homely, rustic bars were my first Tuesdays With Dorie project, hosted by Lynette of 1smallkitchen and Cher of The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler. I have followed Tuesday's With Dorie for some time now, and I'm very excited to be baking along. I love how it pushes you to try recipes you might not have picked yourself.
I believe in learning the rules before you break them, and normally I would have baked the recipe as it appeared before adapting it, but as I got the email saying I was in about a day or two ago, I had short notice, so I adapted a bit liberally.
I didn't have time to make the rhubarb jam the book calls for. Besides, rhubarb isn't available at the market yet. That said, I did what I always do and mixed seemingly disparate ingredients and ended up with a shortbread epiphany. I had duck eggs on hand, so I used duck egg yolks, which are richer than chicken egg yolks. I was also out of sugar (how this happened, I do not know) save some homemade vanilla sugar, so I used that. As for the jam I found a jar of Bon Maman apricot preserves and a jar of TNG scotch bonnet pepper jelly in the door of my refrigerator, so I mixed them together resulting in a sweet, tart, spicy filling that was just amazing with the rich, buttery shortbread with a hint of vanilla. I would strongly suggest whatever filling you use have enough acidity to balance the sweetness of the dough. I only baked half the recipe in a 9x9 inch pan and saved the other half of the dough in the freezer. I intend to make it with lemon curd next time, and I most definitely intend to make the rhubarb jam as soon as I can procure rhubarb.
The warm smell of vanilla and butter rendered me unable to resist trying these when they came out of the oven last night. I stuck my finger in the oozing, hot corner of the pan and then stuck said finger into my mouth, burning both mouth and finger. The sticky, hot, crunchy bite was worth injury. I had to exile myself permanently to the bedroom for the evening to keep myself from nibbling on the corners further. I took the remainder round my family's business this afternoon and gave them out in little bite sized pieces. Everyone adored them, not a single person gave me an unimpressed I-could-take-it-or-leave-it shrug. There were lots of satisfied sighs, mouth-full emphatic nods, and one declaration that I've "still got it!". Was that ever in question?!
This recipe reminded me less of what I think of when I think of shortbread (sandy butter cookie) and more of the "ooey gooey butter bars" my mother used to make when I was a child. And these are just as dangerously habit forming. That said, these are easily enjoyed in moderation, and I cut them into little squares about as big as a quarter to serve them. A bit is really all it takes with these, which makes this recipe go a very long way.
I would have probably never have gotten around to trying this it weren't for this project, and I can now say with certainty that this will be part of my dessert arsenal, if for no other reason than I'm certain I will crave them again. I have to say, while unorthodox, I recommend trying the duck egg/vanilla sugar/ apricot & scotch bonnet variation. You won't regret it. Unless you have an intolerance to spice. In which case, stick to your standard fruit preserves and stay away from the powerful scotch bonnet! I used about a 3:1 ratio of apricot to scotch bonnet, but that's just an estimation, as I mixed them to my taste. Also, after reading some other baker's comments, I pre-baked the bottom half of the dough for ten minutes before topping with the jam and the other half of dough. Once fully assembled I then baked it for an additional 45 minutes. Also, I grated the frozen dough with a box grater as the recipe calls for, but I think next time I would like to just see what using the food processor's grating disk would result in. Using a box grater to shred frozen dough was actually far less of a pain in the ass than I had anticipated, so don't let the step scare you off. If you can grate a block of parmesan, you can do this.
As a participant in Tuesdays With Dorie, I will not be publishing the recipe on my blog as I would strongly encourage everyone to buy the book... books are a wonderful thing and supporting the people who develop & compile recipes benefits us all. The hosts of this recipe will have it on their blogs, linked above. This particular recipe can also be found at Saveur.