Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Peach Shortbread

I was debating whether or not to post this recipe, but after seeing my roommates hovering around the kitchen while my newest project came out of the oven with the comment, "that shortbread was amazing," I decided it should be shared (especially since a bit of experimentation just turned some fabulous strawberry banana bread into some kind of bread pudding...oops).

These pics are not the best in the world, but the brown butter in the recipe IS. This is the first recipe I've made that says to brown the butter, then let it solidify in the freezer before cutting it into the dough. That means that you can have the brown butter flavor AND the flakiness that results from cutting in solid butter, so it's definitely a technique I'll use again.

Peaches are one of the cheaper fruits out in Germany now, so I bought some and hunted through my favorite food blogs to decide how to use them. When I came upon this shortbread recipe, I was too impatient to wait for the peaches to ripen before I made them, so I just cut the peach slices realllly thin, macerated them with some sugar, and hoped the unripe flavor would not be evident. It actually worked!

These are not very sweet, but they are flaky, warmly spiced, and brown-buttery. Yes. And easy. They would definitely be good with any stone fruit, apple, or pear slices, but adjust the spices accordingly if you pick a fruit less amenable to cinnamon and nutmeg. The fruit is mostly to add color and texture, since the thin slices do not impart much flavor. The baking time would be longer for firm fruit like apples, so either cut them really thin, or take the risk that your dough will be done before the fruit is soft.

Here we go:

Peach Shortbread

1 C (200 g) sugar
1 tsp (5 g) baking powder
2 3/4 C plus 2 T (359 g) flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 C (227 g) unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (1/8 to 1/4 thick; thinner means they turn translucent)

Brown the butter ahead of time in a small pot on the stovetop over medium-low heat. Let the butter melt, foam, turn clear golden, then a light brown color. Stir regularly during this process, scraping off anything stuck to the bottom. Before it browns, you will see steam come up from the surface, which is the water in the butter evaporating, and as it browns you will it smell it becoming a little nutty. As I learned in the cooking class I took in Paris last year, you can use all your senses to track the process of butter browning - seeing the steam rising, the color changing; hearing it foam, crackle, and settle back down; smelling the nutty scent of the final product; tasting and touching come later when it has cooled down! Just be sure not to burn it, which can happen quickly after it's become brown. I tend to under-brown it a bit out of fear of burning it, so the flavor of my butter is less strong than it could be.

Once the butter's browned, pour it into a heat and cold proof vessel and set it in the freezer until solid (about 30 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9x13 pan (I halved the recipe and used a 9-inch round pan, which made it very thin).

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, baking powder, flour, spices, and salt. With a pastry blender, fork, or your fingers, blend the brown butter and egg into the dry ingredients until it is crumbly but well mixed.

Pat 3/4 of the dough into the baking pan, pressing firmly. Lay the peach slices over the pressed dough in a single layer. Scatter the remaining crumbs of dough evenly over the peaches.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the top and edges are starting to brown. Cool completely in pan and then cut into squares.

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