Sometimes, less is truly more. When I’m pressed for time but would like to be able to offer a homemade treat, I remind myself to keep things super simple. After all, a distracted mind tends to make mistakes. I’d rather be able to present a small, unembellished morsel successfully executed rather than an overambitious, spectacular flop. This shortbread recipe from Claire Clark, who was head pastry chef at The French Laundry, fits the bill perfectly. For one, I usually have the ingredients for it at hand, so there’s no need to rush about town trying to gather a bunch of exotic ingredients. The vanilla pod can easily be substituted with citrus zest, ground cinnamon or any number of other flavourings. And the recipe itself isn’t too demanding, so I can throw the shortbread together in-between working on the computer or alongside some other dish I’m preparing.
What I love best about this shortbread is that its simplicity allows the ingredients to take centre stage. And it’s delightfully adaptable. Whether you serve it mid-morning with a black tea or cappuccino to dip it into; after a fancy dinner alongside an espresso; or just before bedtime with a cold glass of milk or a steamy hot chocolate, it tastes discreetly indulgent. It’s a great cookie to travel with (just one will hit the spot). And wouldn’t a shortbread cloud be such a whimsical turndown treat for houseguests?
Adapted from Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts by Claire Clark
Makes 8 large clouds or 15 oblongs
225g (8oz) all-purpose flour
75g (2¾oz) caster sugar (I use organic)
1 vanilla pod
150g (5½oz) unsalted butter, diced and softened
50g (1¾oz) additional granulated or caster sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 180° Celsius (350° Fahrenheit). Place the flour and caster sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk to combine.
Slit the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the seeds into the bowl. Add the butter. Mix on low speed using the paddle attachment until the dough comes together. Shape into a ball, flatten slightly, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate briefly. I do this because I live in the tropics.
Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 1cm (½inch) thick. Cut using a cookie cutter dusted with flour and place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. (I did gather the remaining dough scraps into a ball and roll it out again just once to get a few more cookies.) Place the baking sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes. I do this so that the cookie retains its shape.
Bake for 15 minutes, turn the baking sheet around and continue baking for another 10 minutes or until the shortbread is golden brown. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with sugar to coat then cool on a rack.