Saturday, October 10, 2009

"The Best Shortbread" from Cook's Illustrated

We love a rich buttery shortbread in my house. That Walker's tin they sell at Costco . . . we can't have it in the house. Self-control issues. It's a very simple thing to create, typically with just four basic ingredients. My November/December Cook's Illustrated talked about a baking technique using a springform pan. I decided to give it a try. If you're like me and you want the demonstration, look here. I made the basic recipe as follows:

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 t. table salt
14 T. unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/8" thick slices

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Pulse oats in spice grinder or blender until reduced to fine powder, about ten 5-second pulses (you should have ¼ to 1/3 cup oat flour). In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix oat flour, all-purpose flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. Add butter to dry ingredients and continue to mix on low speed until dough just forms and pulls away from sides of bowl, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Place upside-down (grooved edge should be at top) collar of 9- or 9 1/2-inch springform pan on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet (do not use springform pan bottom). Press dough into collar in even 1/2-inch-thick layer, smoothing top of dough with back of spoon. Place 2-inch biscuit cutter in center of dough and cut out center. Place extracted round alongside springform collar on baking sheet and replace cutter in center of dough. Open springform collar, but leave it in place.

3. Bake shortbread 5 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees. Continue to bake until edges turn pale golden, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Remove baking sheet from oven; turn off oven. Remove springform pan collar; use chef’s knife to score surface of shortbread into 16 even wedges, cutting halfway through shortbread. Using wooden skewer, poke 8 to 10 holes in each wedge. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over surface of shortbread, then return it to oven and prop door open with handle of wooden spoon, leaving 1-inch gap at top. Allow shortbread to dry in turned-off oven until pale golden in center (shortbread should be firm but giving to touch), about 1 hour.

4. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool shortbread to room temperature, at least 2 hours. Cut shortbread at scored marks to separate and serve.

The technique is to allow the shortbread to expand as it bakes - otherwise it loses its shape as the edges flatten out. I've seen evidence of this, even when using a shortbread mold. The barrier the springform collar makes it the perfect solution.

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