In an attempt to prepare for my upcoming weekend in Brittany, France, I decided to abstain from butter. The thought was, in anticipation of such a marvelously gourmand adventure savoring the joys of butter in every form, I should probably cut back now. This seemed like an awfully responsible, and quite healthy, idea at the time. However, my rationalization was cut short by a phone call from a friend. I was immediately distracted when I accepted her invitation to go out for ice cream.
Back home, I was rather content after my two scoops of Mövenpick’s Espresso Croquant and Cappuccino ice cream, my regular order from which I rarely stray, and to which I do think the lady behind the counter is catching on. The day will come when I step up and need only say grüezi, Swiss German for hello and my highly caffeinated ice cream order all in one.
My thoughts inevitably returned to my utmost respectable, yet completely unrealistic goal from earlier that day. Looking back, it did have its merits, but was obviously – and rapidly – dismissed. And so, with a newfound determination to not avoid butter, the only solution was… to bake.
What better to showcase butter than a most simple shortbread cookie, as the French call it, a sablé pur beurre. Pure butter, that’s what I was going for. You need less than a half of a dozen ingredients (recipe below), 10 minutes preparation time, and within 5 minutes into baking time, the buttery smells start wafting through your kitchen. This was the very best solution to not avoiding butter after all!
Shortbread is really a simple equation: sugar + butter + flour. Throw in a spatula, a pan, a fork and an oven, and you’re set. When I make shortbread, I like to play with the recipe, adding different salts or spices, espresso powder, shaved chocolate or lemon zest. A little powdered sugar on top or a few extra flakes of salt… the possibilities are endless. No matter what, it is imperative to use top quality butter, one with at least 80% butterfat. Otherwise, what’s the point really? I decided against extra flavorings this time, yet wanted to use cornmeal for a play on texture. The shortbread gets an added crunch and a different mouthfeel than your regular silkiness. I liked the color too – for such a light and airy dough, bright yellow seemed like a nice match. Also, because the dough is so weightless, no need for the mixer. Just grab a spatula or wooden spoon and mix the ingredients together, minimum elbow grease required.
Cornmeal Shortbread1/3 cup (70 g) sugar 2/3 cup (150 g) butter 7 Tbsp (70 g) finely ground cornmeal/polenta 1 1/4 cup (150 g) flour large pinch of fleur de sel, plus more for finish
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius). With a spatula, cream the butter and sugar together until light and airy. Add the salt and cornmeal, and blend together. Add the flour and mix until homogenous. Put the batter into a 24 cm (9 inch) nonstick pan. Choose the shape of your pan (round or square) according to how you plan on cutting the shortbread – in triangles or bars. Using your hands, press down softly and push the batter to the edges, making it smooth. Prick with a fork all over the entire surface, in any shape or form you choose. Bake for 40 minutes, when it should have a golden tint.
Cut while still warm in pan, but leave in place. If you wait for the shortbread to cool to do so, it will be difficult to slice and you will end up with lots of broken pieces and crumbs. Just as tasty, but you’ll get less points for presentation. After cutting, let cool completely.
Sprinkle fleur de sel on top.