I feel like the theme of my month is graceful survival. Getting to the light at the end of the tunnel, to when the grass starts greening, and the fruits start ripening. To the end of the to-do list. But, ya know what? The to-do list doesn’t end, friends. It just keeps right on growing. And thank goodness! Can you imagine how boring life would be if you literally got to the end of your to-do list and had nothing else to-do, ever?
This past week was literally insane around here. I’ve taken on a new role at Skratch Labs (more on that when I can figure out how to describe it,) launched this little online pop-up shop project I’ve been secretly hashing out for some time, and hosted another pop-up pâtisserie here in Boulder. Tomorrow I’ll leave for Tucson where Skratch will be cooking up for a lucky host of athletes for the coming week. So, yesterday, I may or may not have had wine for lunch. I had a nice swim in the summer-like-spring weather we’re having (the grass is really greening!) cleaned up the carnage (sticky notes stuck on the inside of the fridge, a nice measure of flour on my keyboard for example) and set to packing. AND, then took a little survey of all the good stuff that had just happened, and all the good things that came from all that hard work. These easy, unexpected savory cookies rose to the top of that list.
Planning a pop up in March is tricky because you don’t want to overdose your guests with chocolate, and none of the brilliant fruits we pastry chefs love to magically turn into pastries aren’t in season (read: very flavorful) yet. So, I started looking through what I had on hand. Lots of seeds + spices from our travels to China, Turkey, and Italy in the past year or so, a lovely hunk of parmesan that I picked up on a whim from this favorite outpost in Boulder too. Maybe I was onto something. I’ve wanted to make crackers for some time, but as the menu for the pop up revealed itself, “crackers” just didn’t fit. Still, I wanted something straightforward, something that would be delicious with great coffee, and something that would pack well, travel well, and endure the type of party where you rove between groups of friends and the snack table, and don’t particularly want to have crumbs all over your shirt, or half of your cookie drop on the floor if you aren’t there to catch it with your other hand. These little fennel + parmesan shortbread were a huge hit; they were just peppery/salty/savory enough, and spilled no crumbs on anyones’ shirts (at least, not that I’m aware of.) Our guests were dunking them in coffee, and I used a couple as savory spoons for a little bowl of vanilla bean ice cream last night. I HIGHLY recommend that, friends.
So, these cookies. They’re so easy its silly in process, though the dough requires a couple of hours of chill time. I suggest mixing them up in the morning and baking them quickly in the afternoon. The recipe below suggests that you cut the cookies into shapes, but a cookie cutter would work swimmingly. Just thinking outside the box is the key here; hopefully these shortbread open up your mind to other sorts of savory cookies you could pack in a pocket for a bike ride (this next,) or to serve with cheese, dunk in ice cream — and the like. Also, just because there aren’t any fresh fruits jumping off the shelves at us yet doesn’t mean the pantry is empty, or the hope is lost. After all, we need those lulls in brilliance to make inspiration shine. And we need that to-do list (no matter how short or long) to keep us always thinking of what’s next. Enjoy this one!
I’ll be back later this week with a recipe from the road, and if you’re looking for something else to add to your to-do list this week, pop on over to my little online pop up shop and get yourself a gorgeous new apron! – xo L
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground block pepper
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon Maldon sea salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on low speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sugar, sea salt, and pepper and mix on low speed until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix on medium speed until lighter in color and the texture resembles mayonnaise, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the flour. Mix on low speed just until the dough is uniform in tezture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again, add the parmesan cheese, and mix on low speed for one minute - until just combined.
- Gather the dough into a ball, transfer to a large piece of plastic wrap, and cover with another piece of plastic wrap. Flatten the dough to form a rectangle measuring 7 by 10 inches, roughly 1/2 inch thick. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 5 days.
- After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350°F degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a spice grinder or mortar + pestle, coarsely crush the fennel seeds, then transfer them to a small bowl and combine well with the Maldon salt.
- Cut the dough into small rectangles about 1x2 inches and place the cookies on the lined baking sheet, spacing them at least 1 inch apart. (Likewise, you could use your favorite tiny cookie cutter.) Brush the tops of the cookies liberally with olive oil and sprinkle the fennel mixture over the tops.
- Bake for about 18 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown, rotating the pan midway through the baking time.
- Let the shortbread cool on the pan for at least 10 minutes before removing, then let cool completely before serving for the best texture.
- Cooled completely, and stored in an airtight container, the cookies will keep for up to three days.