Monday, August 23, 2010

French Vanilla Shortbread

It was just one of those Irish days....a dark, grey, unmerciful downpour one minute and bright glorious sunshine the next, continuing intermittently for the entire day.  I love days like this as they provide the perfect excuse not to leave the house at all and to hunker indoors with a steaming cup of tea and brewing up a half-notion of creating something wonderful in the kitchen for a few hours. There was nothing else for it but to delve deep into the cookery book shelf and see what was to be found.  And what a little treasure I did find.  My cookery book from when I was a child.  My mother gave my brother and I a different one each (I hope he still has his) and leafing through the pages was like being 7 years old again.  I must have read and re-read and made every recipe in this book when I was a child as reading them all again today, I knew every groovy seventies recipe by heart.

Today called for a tea-time treat, although not an old fashioned one from my seventies childhood like coconut cones, castle puddings or flapjacks.  As nostalgic as the book made me, there was not one thing that I actually fancied eating!
Today was a day for something simple yet a little more sophisticated, so the boys and I made vanilla shortbread.  I have several shortbread recipes, snipped and clipped from various sources, but this one by  Nigella is faultless in its ease of execution - it needs no alteration and absolutely anyone can make it.  It is also delicious and so much better than anything you will buy in the shops.

You will need:

200g plain flour
100g icing sugar
100g cornflour
200g soft unsalted butter
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
vanilla caster sugar for decoration

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
You will need 1 flat baking sheet or Swiss roll tin.

This beautiful bunch of vanilla pods was a present from my mother from France this summer and I have been looking for any excuse to use it.  I love the soft, waxy feel of it and the smell when you split them open is unforgettable.
To extract the vanilla seeds, split one vanilla pod in two and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife.

Using either hand held beaters, mixer or food processor, combine the butter and the vanilla and beat until it is creamy and very soft.  Then sieve the flour, cornflour and icing sugar, combining them together in a large bowl.  Gradually add the flour/cornflour/icing sugar mix to the vanilla butter and mix until a soft pliable dough has formed into a ball in the mixer.

Simply turn it out onto a flat baking sheet and press or roll out the dough to about 3-5mm thick, ensuring that it is an even thickness throughout.  Simply mark even lines in the dough, outlining the shortbread fingers.  Take a fork and prick each finger as you like.

Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Note I placed mine in at 200 degrees for about 18 minutes and they were ready although, as I said last week, I think my oven thermostat is running a few degrees higher than it should be.

Take them out of the oven and cut each shortbread finger through with a sharp knife and leave to cool for ten minutes before attempting to remove them from the sheet.  Then gently move each biscuit with a palette knife onto a wire rack and sprinkle with vanilla caster sugar (you can use the seedless vanilla pod to flavour your sugar-just place in a jar with caster sugar, shake and leave for half an hour.  The flavour will intensify with duration).  Dust off the loose sugar and serve.  These make a great gift also but ensure that they are completely cold before storing them in a tin.

Nigella's recipe boasts 33 fingers, but I made more like 24, this obviously depends on thickness and your ability to create a shape that will resist waste - I did have a few funny shapes around the edges, but I like to think of these as testers!

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