Friday, February 11, 2011

Lavender-Honey Shortbread Cookies

I've been meaning to post the recipe for these cookies for more than a month; that they're going up just a few days before Valentine's Day is purely coincidental.  Well, maybe not, but what better day for heart-shaped cookies than Valentine's Day?

I made these cookies as favors for Matt's brother Doug's wedding in late December.  Doug's wife, Tracy, had gone for a vintage/rustic theme (and well at that - their wedding was just featured on Ruffled, a wedding blog for vintage and DIY weddings) and one of the decor components was lavender: it was used in the place settings and centerpieces as well as in a variety of other places throughout the decor. 

Taking a cue from that, I decided to use lavender in the cookies and accent it with honey, a natural match.  If you think lavender is a polarizing flavor in foods, think again: some of the guests were stealing cookies off other guests' tables, and they were all gone by the end of the night.  Thankfully I had saved a dozen for the bride and groom to devour after their honeymoon.

Wedding favors: lavender-honey shortbread cookies attached to little birdhouses.
People were stealing the cookies off the birdhouses.  Seriously.
Photo by Ryan Ray
Shortbread cookies are Stupidly Simple to make.  Just ask Amy Cao, with whom I spent an afternoon last August chatting about food and making Earl Grey tea shortbread cookies* as a guest in one of her wildly popular Stupidly Simple Snacks videos.

* The recipe in this video is not the same as the one below; see the note below for how to make modifications to this recipe to make a classic shortbread cookie as shown in the video.

These cookies are no harder to make, although sourcing lavender can sometimes be a challenge: my awesome mother went to nearly every Whole Foods and natural foods and herb/tea store in NYC the month before my wedding so I could make these cookies for the dessert bar but ultimately turned up empty-handed, which boggled our minds (we live in NYC and no one had lavender?!?!) and had me change the flavor at the last minute to lemon-pink peppercorn.  [If you're in NYC, Lavender By The Bay, which is at the Grand Army Plaza and Union Square greenmarkets, both of which are open on Saturdays year round, is an excellent resource.  Why I didn't think of this in August 2009 is beyond me, but something tells me it's because I didn't have much clarity a week before my wedding.]

Look to the left! Lemon-pink peppercorn shortbread cookies!
(And pistachio rose cupcakes to the right and strawberry meringues in the center top row)
Photo by Dave Robbins
The delicate lavender flavor comes through just enough in these cookies to be discernible, but it isn't so strong that you feel like you've eaten a bar of soap (often a danger with lavender-flavored foods and drinks).  The salt definitely comes through and provides a nice counterpoint to the mild sweetness and honey flavor (I promise these cookies aren't overly sweet, though).  If you want to make these even easier, just roll the dough into a log, then chill, slice, and bake.
Who wouldn't love this?  Only a grinch.
But if you're in need of a last minute Valentine's Day present, these heart-shaped cookies just might be the answer.  Homemade gifts generally get bonus points (so long as they're well-executed) and the unexpected flavor and delicate texture make it clear that you didn't buy pre-made cookie dough and bake it (that would get you a C for effort).  These, though, are straight A all around.


Lavender-Honey Shortbread Cookies
makes approximately two dozen 2" cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons dried lavender
3 ½ ounces (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons honey

**Note: If you want to make these (or another flavor) cookies without honey, such as the ones shown in the video, swap out the honey for sugar, increase the butter to 8 tablespoons, and do not use the baking powder - the same base recipe as shown in the video above.

Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder into a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine the sugar and lavender in the bowl of a stand mixer or a medium mixing bowl.  Using your fingertips, rub together the lavender and sugar.  Don’t break up the lavender too much; you just want to release some of the oils.

Add the butter and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the honey, then mix until well combined. [Tip: use the wrapper from the butter to grease the inside of your measuring spoon that you're using for the honey - it makes the honey pour out more easily.]

Add the flour mixture and mix on lowest speed until just combined.  Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and form into a disk.  Wrap and chill until firm, at least one hour or overnight in the fridge and about 20 minutes in the freezer.  [Alternately, you can roll the dough into a log, wrap and chill, then slice and bake as directed below.]

Remove the dough from the fridge and heat your oven to 325 F.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

Remove the dough from the fridge and cut it in half.  Roll out the dough to ¼" thickness.  [If the dough has been in the fridge overnight, let it sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before rolling.]  Cut out shapes using cookie cutters and place them on the lined baking sheets, leaving at least 1" between the cookies.   Set the scraps aside.  Repeat with the second half and combine the scraps with those from the first half of dough.  Repeat until the dough is used up.  [I try to roll out the dough as little as possible to keep the cookies tender.]

Bake until the cookies are barely golden around the bottom edges,  11-14 minutes.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

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