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cookbook spotlight: The Everyday Baker

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cookbook spotlight: The Everyday Baker

Karen Covey

cookbook-spotlight-the-everyday-baker.jpg

I’ve been making my mom’s shortbread recipe for as long as I can remember so it was no surprise that when looking through Abigail Johnson Dodge’s new book, The Everyday Baker (published by The Taunton Press, 2015), the recipe that caught my eye first was the shortbread. Unlike my mom’s version, Abby’s uses cornmeal in the batter, which adds just enough texture to make it slightly crunchy and oh so interesting. 

Abby is a classically trained pastry chef and an award-winning baking expert. She is also a long time contributing editor to Fine Cooking magazine. The Everyday Baker is her tenth book and there is so much I love about it.

From the over 176 recipes to the almost 1,000 step-by-step photographs, this book will teach you as you go, illustrating the why and how behind the techniques and recipes. The recipes also offer flavor substitutions and make-ahead tips. The book eases the home baker through each recipe with its in-depth instructions, allowing for more confidence in the kitchen. It’s a comprehensive baking book for anyone who likes to bake and will most certainly have a permanent place on my shelf.

Below is the original recipe from Abby’s book. The above photo is my swap of her recipe using the seeds of 1 vanilla bean + 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (instead of the rosemary). All versions of this recipe are delicious!

rosemary-cornmeal shortbread

Like most folks, I have a go-to list of tried-and-true cookies that I bake and give year-round. While I like them all, my shortbread cookie is my go-to fave for all occasions—its flavor and shape variations make it truly evergreen. The combination of cake flour, cornstarch, and confectioners’ sugar adds a tender, meltaway texture to these shortbread cookies. The small amount of stone-ground cornmeal adds a touch of crunchy texture, and the addition of the rosemary and salt makes each bite of shortbread at once slightly sweet, slightly savory, and wonderfully fragrant.

Nonstick cooking spray or softened butter, for preparing pan
1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1⁄3 cup stone-ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1⁄2 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
1 1⁄2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Fleur de sel or coarse sanding sugar, optional

1. Lightly grease a 9 1⁄4-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Whisk flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl until well blended. 
2. Put butter and confectioners’ sugar in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using an electric handheld mixer fitted with wire beaters). Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add rosemary and vanilla and beat on medium until blended and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until dough forms moist clumps. Dump dough into prepared pan. Using lightly floured fingertips, press dough into pan to form an even layer. Make sure to press dough into scalloped edges to form a clean edge. Sprinkle fleur de sel or sanding sugar, if using, evenly over top.
3. Using tip of a knife or a bench scraper, score dough completely through, forming 16 wedges. With tines of a fork, prick each wedge twice completely through, starting at widest part of each wedge and spacing them about 1⁄2 inch apart. Lightly flour tines of your fork as necessary to prevent dough from sticking. Slide pan into freezer or fridge for about 10 minutes while oven preheats. 
4. Position a rack in center of oven and heat oven to 300°F.
5. Bake shortbread until top looks dry and very pale brown, 39-41 minutes. Move pan to a rack. Using a small paring or serrated knife (I don’t use a bench scraper for this because it compresses cookies’ edges), immediately recut wedges using scored lines as a guide. Allow shortbread to cool completely before removing from pan.

Makes 16 cookies.

FLAVOR SWAPS:

Instead of rosemary, use one of following combinations:

double ginger: 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger + 1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (add both with vanilla). 
cinnamon toast: 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon added to flour + 1 tablespoon sugar mixed with 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon sprinkled over shortbread and pressed lightly into dough before baking.
espresso chip: 1⁄2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (dissolved in vanilla extract) + 1⁄3 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate.

RE-SIZE IT:

To make rectangular cookies:
Line bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan (straight-sided type) with parchment. Prepare dough as directed. Using lightly floured fingertips, press dough into pan to form an even layer. Using tip of a knife or a bench scraper, score dough completely through, forming 1 x 2-inch bars. Proceed as directed.

To make round cookies:
Have ready two cookie sheets lined with parchment or nonstick liners. Prepare dough as directed. Arrange a large piece of parchment on a work surface and scrape dough onto center. Cover with another piece of parchment and press down on dough to flatten. Using a rolling pin, roll dough between the parchment to a 1⁄4-inch thickness, turning, lifting, and repositioning parchment and lightly flouring throughout rolling. Slide dough onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes. Remove top piece of parchment from chilled dough. Using a 21⁄2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out rounds. Using end of a straw, punch out three holes in center of each round. Arrange about 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Stack scraps, gently press together, reroll, chill, and cut as directed. Slide cookie sheets into fridge while oven preheats (at least 15 minutes). Bake, one sheet at a time, until tops look dry and very pale brown, 26-28 minutes.

FINISHING TOUCHES:

Serve the cookies with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

MAKE AHEAD:

Shortbread can be prepared through Step 3 and refrigerated for 1 day or covered and frozen for up to 1 month. If frozen, thaw in refrigerator overnight before baking. Stow the baked and cooled cookies between sheets of parchment or waxed paper in an airtight container for up to 4 days at room temperature or freeze for up to 6 weeks.

Reprinted with permission from The Everyday Baker by Abigail Johnson Dodge published by The Taunton Press in 2015. Cover photography by Sloan Howard.


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