Mmmmm - Lemon Lavender Shortbread Holiday Style (Recipe Included)
When I say I love holiday traditions, I don’t mean just a little around the edges. I mean I love all the goings-on which wrap up the whole time from the week before Thanksgiving through to New Year’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, I plan plenty of R&R too but it’s the traditions which bring me so much joy – a lot of that means cooking and baking!
This year we thought I could share some of my favorite recipes and a few family secrets with you. The Rees family is so intertwined with Rees Harps that it seems like it makes sense to share our traditions with you. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting to our Blog-ish blog, at both the Rees Concert Lever Harps and the Harpsicle® Harps websites, once a week with a peek into… well… into us. If you’re like me, you like knowing something about the people who make the things you love – so here goes!
Beginning the week before Thanksgiving I am planning the menu and organizing the grocery list as if it were a military operation. By Saturday I am double checking basic kitchen supplies and Sunday I’m off to the races to round up all the groceries for Thursday’s meal. Monday and Tuesday are at least partially filled with prep. By Wednesday, I’m all in. I serve the meal late in the day on Thursday and then relax…for a couple of days at least, because next the baking begins.
When Rebecca (William’s daughter) and Melissa (our daughter-in-law) come to help in the kitchen, it’s always glorious fun. This year we made several different kinds of cookies together and over the weeks leading up to Christmas we’ll give you a window into my kitchen and home so you can see the results. It’s too bad you can’t smell them too because next to the smell of spruce and fir trees, holiday baking is among my favorite scents of the entire year.
This year we started with my Lemon Lavender Shortbread cookies. By adding a bit of pearl sanding sugar to the top, they took on a bit of a glow, so I’m calling that little addition “Holiday Style.” It’s just a little added flash but it worked perfectly. Like many recipes, this one originally came from the good people at Bon Appetit many years ago and I have tweaked it over the years into something quite a bit different and, in my opinion, so much more yummy! Here’s the recipe and my, hopefully helpful, comments along the way. These cookies taste a bit like eating a flower and the fragrance while they are baking is not to be rivaled. I hope you get the chance to try them. If you do, let me know how they turn out!
Lemon Lavender Shortbread (Holiday Style)
For the cookies
• 2-1/2 cups flour (I use King Arthur or White Lilly all-purpose flour because I think it gives a better texture/crumb)
• 1/2 tsp salt (I may be crazy but I don’t use kosher salt here, just regular-old table salt. Again, I think it keeps the texture better for these short crumb cookies in particular.)
• 1 cup regular (salted) butter (Unlike most cookie recipes, I always like butter to be as cold as it can be and still remain workable for these, so I mash it as quickly as I can with a fork until it is kind of smooth, but not entirely.)
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 2 TBSP very finely grated lemon zest (Grate and then chop until it really is very, very fine.)
• 1 “heaping” tsp French lavender (I think Williams-Sonoma has the best quality but I’m from Sonoma County so that could just be bias. I do actually plan to try the lavender from Purple Haze Lavender, see below, because I’m betting it’s as good as their wonderful Lavender Syrup. **Important note – only use lavender which has been grown for cooking. Lavender grown for other purposes can have unsafe pesticides.)
• 1 tsp vanilla (Okay, here’s a trick I use all the time. I like a really strong vanilla flavor but regular vanilla can become bitter. I use Penzey’s Vanilla Double Strength and I keep the amount the same as it is in the original recipe. It’s more of the yum without adding any bitter bite.)
• 4 large egg yolks (I prefer organic, free-range brown eggs but I’m a Californian so I eat a lot of granola too. Use the eggs you like best.)
• 2 empty, cardboard paper towel rolls (No joke, I’ll explain later.)
For the icing
• 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
• 3 TBSP fresh lemon juice (Don’t cheat here. Buy a lemon and juice it. The juice that comes in the little lemon-shaped ball is bitter and will ruin your cookies.)
• 1 tsp lavender syrup (This is tricky to find. I recommend Purple Haze Lavender’s Lavender Syrup . Once you have it you’ll find yourself sneaking it into lots of other things too!)
• Purple Gel Food Coloring (The name of the game in this area seems to be Wilton, so I use theirs. Remember though, use just a teensy-tiny bit. You can always add more but this stuff is powerful and a little goes a long way.)
• Pearl, purple or silver sanding sugar (I used purple this time.)
As you can tell, between ordering any ingredients you cannot acquire locally and saving-up paper towel cardboard rolls, this recipe requires advance planning but it is oh so worth it!
Whisk flour and salt together really thoroughly and set aside. Using an electric mixer beat butter, sugar, lemon zest, lavender and vanilla together. Incorporate the flour mixture into the wet ingredients with the electric mixer. Begin at a medium speed and finish with a quick burst at medium high. Beat until light and fluffy but only just. Do not overwork the dough! Add the egg yolks last and only beat enough to blend them in. Again, overworking is your enemy.
Now get your hands into the bowl and work quickly for this next step. Remember that you are warm and you don’t want your dough to get any warmer than is absolutely necessary. Divide the dough into two nice balls. On a flat, cool surface roll each ball into a smooth log which is just a bit longer than your paper towel rolls. Check to make sure the log fits into the paper towel tube by gently lifting one end and testing it. After you are sure it fits wrap the dough log in plastic wrap, keeping the plastic wrap as smooth as you can. (Substantial wrinkles in the plastic wrap will prevent the dough from sliding into the paper towel roll and the wrinkles will end-up showing in the outer edge of your cookies.) Now you can slide the dough roll into the paper towel roll, put it in your refrigerator and repeat with the second ball of dough. I usually refrigerate the dough overnight – It seems to give me a better result that just refrigerating for a couple of hours.
When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you have two baking sheets you can line them both at once otherwise you have to wait for the first one to completely cool before placing the next batch on it. Once your baking sheet is ready, take one of the rolls out, slice it into 1/4” rounds and place each round on the tray spaced about an 1” apart. (I like to gently touch up the edges of each cookie with my fingers to make them all nice and round and pretty before placing them on the cookie sheet.)
Ovens are different and mine is a little fast. The original recipe says to bake for 16 to 18 minutes but I find 15 to 16 is more like it. You want the cookies to appear golden at the edges and to be firm. Leave them on the baking sheet for about a minute after you take them out of the oven and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Repeat for the second roll of dough but be sure to start with a completely cool baking sheet and with fresh parchment. The cookies must be absolutely cool before icing them, so relax and give them a little time after they have baked. If you can’t resist them while they are cooling, a plain, warm, lemon lavender shortbread cookie is pretty great just on its own.
To make the icing add the powdered sugar into a small bowl and then whisk in the lemon juice and lavender syrup. If you have whisked thoroughly and it still feels a bit stiff, you can add a tiny bit of water if more moisture is needed. After you get to the right consistency for drizzling, begin adding the food coloring in very, very tiny amounts until you reach a color you like. When it’s ready to go, drizzle the icing across the cookies and sprinkle lightly with sanding sugar. These cookies keep well when stored in an airtight container at room temperature. I would imagine that they would last for several days but I wouldn’t know, they never last that long in my house!
Cheers! – Pamela Rees