The Cookies of Insanity, or Warren Buffett’s Shortbread

 

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What, you mean you haven’t seen The Princess Bride? What has this world coming to? In determining the degree of insanity involved in this cookie recipe, I wanted to be able to make a comparison to some other well-known insanity. Maybe it’s not so well-known, but the first thing that came to mind, was the cliffs of insanity, from The Princess Bride, only my second favorite movie of all time, after The 5000 Fingers of Doctor T. I guess obscurity is its own reward.

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So why are these cookies so insane? They’re just shortbread. Shortbread made with matcha (green tea) powder. Covered with condensed milk caramel. Boiled down to be really brown and toasty. Coated with dark chocolate. Deep, dark chocolate. Is that so insane? Fine, forget you, sanity, I’m going with the cookies.

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Wait, what does Warren Buffett have to do with it? (Admit it, you thought I’d forgotten about him or that it was simply another facet of the insanity factor). Warren Buffett, in case you haven’t picked up a newspaper or checked in on FB or anywhere else for about a million years, is a well-known billionaire. In the UK, a popular sweet composed of a layer of shortbread, a layer of condensed milk caramel, and a layer of chocolate, is known as “Millionaire’s Shortbread.” These cookies, inspired by those cookies, are so rich, so ever so much only more so, that I want to call them “Billionaire’s Shortbread.” If Warren Buffett wants some, I will gladly send him some.

ooh_chocolate  cutting_up

O.K., you can relax, the long-winded portion of this post (or some of it) is over, and I’ll get to the main event. Why I made these cookies and, alright already, the recipe.

Why did I make these cookies?* Because I loooove them so much! No, seriously, they’re very, very good. Or at least I think so. The long and winding road of inspiration goes back about three years to an event at my kid’s school, an event for which I decided to bring these cookies, http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2007/02/green-dreams/, found along the wayside of my web-based meanderings. I love Smitten Kitchen, http://smittenkitchen.com/, and Deb Perelman is a genius and a saint, but when I made the dough, it seemed very dry. So I threw in a ton of somewhat more butter to make it better (just like Betty and her batter—if you’ve heard of her, you must be O.L.D., like me). The butter helped, but it was hard to roll out. However…

Yet another obsession, yearning to breathe free, was my love of a locally made sweet, Claire’s Squares, a version of, you guessed it, Millionaire’s Shortbread. I had already been trying (with only marginal success) to reproduce these at home. Inspiration struck—I have yet to recover—what would happen if I made this using green tea shortbread? The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind, the answer…sorry, wrong post. The answer is in the recipe and the proof is in the pudding, or, in this case, in the shortbread.

Bake, eat, enjoy.

Green Tea Millionaire’s Shortbread

Ingredients
Shortbread
2 cups / 250 grams unbleached flour
1/4 cup /31 grams cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 + cup / 70 grams powdered sugar
3 tbsp. / 18 grams matcha (green tea powder)
18.75 tbsp. / 260 grams unsalted** butter, softened
3/8 cup / 75 grams granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Caramel Topping
4 oz. (1/2+ cup packed) / 113 grams dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. / 40 grams Lyle’s golden syrup
4 oz. / 113 grams butter (salted is ok!)
1/2 – 14 oz. tin / 195 grams sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp. salt

+ 6–8 oz. /168–224 grams bittersweet chocolate feves or chopped chocolate (you can also use chocolate chips, milk or semi-sweet chocolate—whatever you prefer)

Shortbread
Preheat oven to 325° F. Butter a 9 x 9 baking dish and line with parchment paper, leaving an inch or so overhang. Butter the parchment paper. Whisk dry ingredients together. Cream butter until smooth and then add the granulated sugar and mix until well combined and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Scrape down the bowl and then add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Press into the prepared baking dish to make a smooth layer and bake until it firms up to the touch or is very slightly browned, about 25 minutes.

Caramel topping
In a medium sauce pan, cook the brown sugar and golden syrup until it begins to bubble and caramelize. Add the butter and stir until well-blended, then the condensed milk and cook at medium low heat for 5–7 minutes until the mixture has thickened.

Spread the caramel over the shortbread in an even layer and return to the oven for 5–10 minutes.

Once out of the oven, sprinkle the feves or chocolate chips over the top and let sit for about 5 minutes before smoothing it over the top with an offset spatula. You can also use tempered chocolate (I did not have good success with tempering the chocolate for the cookies that I shipped; they still tasted great, but you can see in the pictures that the tempering was strange. However, I subsequently found these great instructions on Alice Medrich’s website: http://alicemedrich.com/category/chocolate/tempering-chocolate/.

Let cool completely in the pan—refrigerating for a short time is not a bad idea—before using the parchment overhang to remove it from the pan. Using a hot knife***, slice into as many squares as you like; it’s very rich so 1″ squares are a good size for a cookie tray, or 2″ squares for eating singly.

** You can also use high-quality salted butter in the shortbread dough.

*** I pour boiling water over the knife, wipe it completely dry and then wipe with paper towels between each cut. I repeat the boiling water as necessary.

*I also made these cookies because, once again, it was time for the Great Food Bloggers Cookie Swap: http://www.fbcookieswap.com/. Not that I needed an excuse—I look for reasons to make these cookies the way that dogs look for reasons to chase sticks—i.e., who needs a reason. Thanks to Jennifer, http://www.kitchenserf.com/, for the delicious gingersnaps (woohoo, my kid doesn’t eat gingersnaps, so the husband guy and I got all of them) and Sam, http://hautepepperbites.com/, for the delicious eggnog snickerdoodles rolled in gingersnap sugar (which were selflessly shared with the kid as well as the husband guy). The third cookies are a mystery. Did the mail carrier eat them? Did somebody nab them off my porch? I don’t know. Perhaps it was not meant to be.
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Memory Lane

Continuing back down Memory Lane, I am lucky enough to have an amazing mother, and, earlier this year, she reached an amazing birthday. And what did I do, you ask? (or not) I baked!

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I made: Citrus poundcake; Chocolate orange poundcake; Brown sugar brown butter cookies; Rugelach;

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and, for brunch, blintz loaf (it really tastes much better than it sounds.

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In addition, we served leftover cookies from the day before (some made by me, some, gasp, store-bought) and leftover birthday cake.

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Happy 100th Birthday to my wonderful mother!

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Truthfully?

Truthfully? Not a lot of baking this year. When you’re a freelance costume designer and have 5 shows, 3 of them period costume, teach almost full-time and have a challenging teenager, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for baking. However…

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This happened. It happened after…

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…this happened. We had such beautiful peaches all summer and I felt compelled. I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Pie and Pastry Bible recipe which drains and then reduces the peach juice into a syrup that is so good it’s hard to believe it’s even possible.

And look!

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I invented peach butter!

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The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

How would it have been possible to resist this? I wouldn’t know, I didn’t even try to resist!

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At this point, I don’t even remember where I heard about it. But nothing spurs me to ambitious feats of baking more than the chance to bake something and take it out of my house. Because, “Danger, Will Robinson,” baking without an external destination is a perilous pastime. But I am so grateful to Alyson, wineandplum.com, for her delicious nutella & caramel stuffed chocolate chocolate chip cookies; Allison, celebratingsweets.wordpress.com, for her delicious butter toffee shortbread cookies; and Nicki, http://nickisrandommusings.com/ for her delicious oatmeal cranberry white chocolate chip cookies. I was kind of nice and even shared them with the husband guy and the offspring unit.

Instructions were clear on the website, http://www.fbcookieswap.com/, so all I had to do was dredge through the sugar and flour-coated recesses of my brain and come up with a favorite recipe that I hoped would ship well.

What better cookie could there be than Danish Butter Sandwiches? Long ago, in the middle jurassic (or something like that), I worked at a coffee shop in Bellingham, Washington, called Casa Rosa. A truly gifted pastry chef worked there and, although I don’t remember her name, I remember her cookies. Of all the beautiful things she made, these were my favorite. I would haunt the pastry case, looking for cookies that hadn’t been able to take the pressure of constant scrutiny by the public and had, as a result, lost their structural integrity. These cookies I claimed as my own. As this happened infrequently, I finally just asked for the recipe.

She didn’t give it to me. But she told me where to find it. It’s in Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, originally published in 1977. It’s a simple recipe with only 4 ingredients in the original cookie (I added salt) and 5 ingredients in the filling. It is rich, yet delicate and, as my offspring said, “tastes like vanilla and happiness.”

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It doesn’t take a pantry full of stuff to make these.

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I save the egg whites, but the ones that get yolk in them go to the husband guy–“hey, honey, it’s time for another omelet!” Then it’s the usual routine; cream butter, add sugar, add egg yolk, you know the drill.

30g_dough dough_balls ready_to_bake

The original recipe calls for unsalted butter but if you like salt and have access to high quality salted butter, I say “go for it!” I used to roll the dough into balls, flatten it carefully and then use a fork to create a pattern but that’s too much work so now I just flatten them with my fingers. I also do not sift the flour–it seems to make no difference.

oops

Oops, the first batch deconstructed. I checked my oven temperature and it was too hot. Also, I hadn’t chilled the cookies after shaping them. Next batch chilled out for 15 minutes and worked much better. The chocolate version seems to be less prone to meltdowns but chilling is good for all.

better chocolate_dough

I bet you thought I’d never get to the sandwich part. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that one recipe of the filling isn’t quite enough. It’s easy to make a larger batch, so why not do it? It’s also good spread over pancakes or used as filling in more mundane cookies. A spoon works, too.

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Here’s the recipe, as adapted by moi:

Cookies
Butter: 4 sticks/one pound/454 grams
Light brown sugar: 1- 1/2 cup/228 grams
Egg yolk: 2
Sifted all-purpose flour: 4-1/2 cup/500 grams*
Big pinch salt

Filling
Butter: 4 tablespoons/56 grams
Powdered sugar: 2 -1/2 cups/276 grams
Vanilla: 1 teaspoon
Heavy cream: 3-1/2 to 4 tablespoons
Salt: big pinch or about 1/4 teaspoon

To make the cookies
Cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat to mix in well. Add the egg yolk and mix until well blended. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour, scraping the bowl as needed until well combined. Dough does not need to be chilled, but I find it easier to handle if it is chilled for 10 or 15 minutes. Make into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet** about 1-1/2-2″ apart. Flatten with your fingers or a floured glass. Press with fork, if desired. Cookies can spread if the oven is too hot; you can eith use a bit more flour or chill the cookies 15 minutes prior to baking (or both). Bake for 15-20 minutes at 325F until light golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes. Let cool completely before filling.

To make the filling:
Melt butter and let it boil until brown (watch carefully, it burns easily). Remove from heat and add powdered sugar, vanilla and 3-1/2 tablespoons of the cream. Stir until smooth. If necessary, add the last 1/2 tablespoon of cream.*** Spread onto cookie halves and make heavenly sandwich cookies.

Makes about 20 sandwich cookies (depending on size of cookie–I use 30g of dough per cookie).

* I like to use a little bit less flour to create a more melting texture so I use 480 grams of flour rather than 500. If using cup measurements, make your measurements scant instead of full, and that will probably do it.

** You can use a silicone baking mat or parchment paper–it makes for easier cookie removal.

*** The filling thickens and sets as it cools so I usually add the rest of the cream after it has cooled somewhat.

Chocolate Cookie Variation:
To make a delicious chocolate version of this cookie, use 380 grams (scant 3-1/2 cup) flour and 90 grams (3/4 cup) dutch process cocoa powder. Valhrona cocoa powder will yield cookies so dark that they look as they’ve been baked by the Devil himself. I highly recommend them.

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Trying to spend a Sunday with Joy

I’ve been missing in action from the Sundays with Joy baking group but am at least getting around to posting what I baked almost a month ago: Chocolate Fudge Brownies with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting.

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Since I’m apparently incapable of ever making a recipe exactly as noted, I made Joy’s Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting instead of the peanut butter cream cheese frosting. In my defense I must state that I’m really not fond of peanut butter so I generally will choose to modify a recipe in order to avoid it. And I really love the brown sugar cream cheese frosting.

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These were a dream to make; in addition to all the things one might expect to find in a brownie, they also contain chocolate chips which make for a more fun textural experience. The husband guy said that they were the best he’d ever had. Who am I to argue with him?

 

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Although the brown sugar cream cheese frosting usually comes out perfect, it was a little grainy this time. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed by the judicious use of chocolate sprinkles.

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October’s over, but the memories remain.

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plum passion

No, really, it was just a tart. O.k., there were three or four of them. In a moment of madness, I purchased a 25 pound box of tiny french plums. I had only the vaguest plans for them, but, faced with what seemed like a million plums the size of extremely large marbles, I had to act.
It was the end of summer. Social occasions emerged here and and formed a giant archipelago in what had formerly seemed like the longest of summers. I had the plums, I had the butter, I had the Zuni Café cookbook. Armed with these, I used the fewest ingredients to make the most beautiful tarts.
Crust: Salted butter, flour, sugar (no water!); Filling: plums, sugar, salt; Result: Nirvana (not the band).
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This tart was made with larger plums, but everything else was the same.

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An Eponymous Confection

It’s not really a confection. But how many times does a person get to use the word “eponymous” in a blog post? I didn’t even know what it meant for most of my life.* This week’s recipe for Sundays with Joy was banana coconut cream pie. But here’s the thing; if someone said to me, “Eat this banana, and I’ll give you a million dollars,” I’d probably eat the banana. If someone said to me, “If you don’t eat this banana, I’ll shoot you,” I would probably eat the banana. But I don’t think that anybody is likely to give me a million dollars for eating a banana, or shoot me for not eating one. So until that day comes, you won’t find me making a recipe with bananas.**

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A couple of weeks ago, I was confused.*** Even though the recipe was for peach cobbler muffins, for some reason, I thought it was the extra crumb coffee cake. I love crumb cakes**** and went ahead and made that recipe. It was fabulous, so much so that I considered asking my husband to tie me to my chair to prevent me from eating more helpings than would be good for any of us. I figured out that, regarding the calendar, I was out of whack, and also made the peach cobbler muffins (delicious, maybe to be described in a future post). But the crumb cake haunted me.

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When I made the crumb cake the first time, I loved it. It called for cocoa powder in the swirl but I left it out because, although I love chocolate, I wanted the pure experience of cinnamon and nutmeg with no assertive chocolate nosing its way through the sugary spice. The extra crumb topping was also surpassingly delicious but exhibited a tendency to leap off the cliff of the cake in a distressingly lemming-like fashion.  So when the opportunity came up to make it again, I wanted to try something a bit different for the topping.

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I’m up in Eastern Washington state, visiting my family. What I do for fun during such visits usually consists of haunting book stores, buying more vintage aprons than could be considered healthy and, of course, baking. Part of baking these days, as we all know, is surfing the web, idly hoping for diamonds to turn up in the mass of pebbles that are all the recipes to be found online. I was looking for something to do with blackberries and found a nice looking recipe for a blackberry crumb cake. The ingredients for the crumb topping were similar but it called for the butter to be melted and the topping to be distributed in clumps on the top of the cake batter. Eureka!

I exercised self control, no idea how that happened. It was even better than the first time!

* Eponymous means “of, relating to, or being the person or thing for whom or which something is named.” (thank you, online dictionaries!)

** I will probably try to figure out how I can make the banana coconut cream pie with something besides bananas. Don’t hold your breath, though…

*** I am confused more often than that, usually at least once a day

**** It’s that eponymous thing again—tales from the crumb tray, crumb cakes, ok, ok, I’ll stop!

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Who needs a pool boy?

What does this have to do with Joy the Baker’s honey and toasted walnut ice cream, not to mention Joy the Baker’s almost burnt salted caramel sauce?

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I’ll get to that later…

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I’ve been far, far away from Sundays with Joy, the Facebook group dedicated to cooking/baking all the way through the Joy the Baker Cookbook. But, for at least a brief, shining moment, I’m back.

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This was a bonus, 2-recipe week, ice cream + sauce. What could be bad? Nothing, it turns out. The ice cream uses a cooked custard which is chilled thoroughly before being frozen in an ice cream maker. It went together like a dream; my only deviations from the recipe were to use an ice bath to chill the mix immediately after straining and chilling in the refrigerator over night (the recipe suggests chilling for at least two hours).

Oops, one more deviation due to momentary disconnect between brain and body…

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I had so much fun beating eggs the old-fashioned way that I forgot to beat in the sugar and salt but hey, I just threw it in after I tempered the eggs and combined everything. It didn’t seem to make any difference.

The caramel sauce came out dark and almost burnt (in a good way) just as it was meant to. Some of the sugar didn’t want to completely dissolve (sorry, no photos of this)—another time, I think I would melt the sugar in three parts rather than all at once. But the sauce turned out fabulous all the same so maybe that doesn’t matter.

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And the pool boy? I don’t have one—I don’t need one! Inherited by my husband from his first marriage (that was his practice one), was the magnificent Il Gelateria ice cream maker with onboard chilling unit. No having to remember to freeze the canister! It is ready to churn after five minutes! We can make batch after batch! And, right on the side of the machine, it says “Ice Cream Boy!”

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Emerging from the “no time to” bake zone

I have been so baking deprived, but, in the last few weeks, have managed to fling a few things into the oven.

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It’s Pride Weekend in San Francisco, so, as is my custom, I made rainbow cupcakes for my Pride Celebration “Bake Free!”

Even though I give the cupcakes away, there are, amazingly, people who don’t want a free cupcake. So I still have some left.

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Fortunately, they freeze!

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These cupcakes just don’t keep!

I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep up on Sundays with Joy (baking from the Joy the Baker cookbook with my online, baking obsessed companions) but I managed this week!

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We baked mini chamomile cakes with honey frosting (sorry for the blurry photo–my IT guy (aka my husband) took these pictures with his phone; mostly they turn out great, but not this one). I didn’t have regular milk so I mixed cream with skim milk and it worked fine. The batter was super easy to make as most of the ingredients just went straight into the mixer except for the eggs, milk and vanilla. In fact, the only thing even mildly challenging (other than keeping myself from eating most of them) was opening 12, count ‘em 12, tea bags to get the chamomile out. You’d think that my local hippie food coop place would have bulk chamomile. Just sayin’

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Moto sensed the presence of butter, but I frustated his sworn intentions.

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Even though I doubled the cupcake recipe, the quantities for the frosting seemed pretty large to me so I made a batch and a half. This was half a recipe too much. This means that I have to have the sailors tie me to the mast every time I open the refrigerator door. I’ll bet it would taste really good on carrot cake pancakes (Inside Baking with Joy joke).

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Brought these for the costume crew at school. People always seem to like the baked goods that I bring (perhaps because they’re ravenous college students?)–these, however, generated the most positive response yet! They’re definitely going on my bake again list. My only complaint? They just don’t keep–I turned my back and they were gone!

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