Sunday, August 22, 2010

Almond Shortbread Raspberry Jam Sandwiches

When I was in university, I worked in an English tea room, and I had to make hundreds of tarts, cookies, and scones every week.  It was then that I became truly at ease with baking and making pastry.  We used to make several pounds of butter pastry at once (by hand, without an electric mixer!).  I learned lots of tricks and was introduced to many handy tools working in the tea room kitchen.

These cookies are a hybrid between Empire (or Belgian) cookies and shortbread. At the tea room, we always iced the Empire cookies with almond icing, and they had raspberry jam in the middle. When I make these at Christmastime, I cut them into star shapes or trees, or hearts for Valentine's day.  You can use any kind of jam, but I like raspberry best.

Shortbread is one of the simplest types of cookies to make.  The basic recipe of butter, sugar, salt and flour can be adapted with any flavour simply by adding various extracts, fruit, nuts, sugar or chocolate.

1/2 lb of soft butter (1 cup)
1/2 cup of white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp + almond extract (I add extra sometimes)
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
2 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar together.  Add the remaining ingredients in order listed.  Mix together until dough is smooth.  This time, I used an electric mixer, but it is easy to do by hand. In fact,  the dough is easier to handle if you mix it by hand. Form dough into a ball, flatten it into a disc, and wrap in wax paper. Chill 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  Use flour as needed to prevent dough sticking.  I like to roll my pastry and dough directly on the counter.  This gives you lots of space to manoeuver.  My rolling pin belonged to my great-grandmother.  It is a great pin; it's heavy hardwood, and moves really smoothly. My favourite part of it is the scorch mark on one end where it was left too close to the woodstove.

Cut into desired shapes, and place on cookie sheet.  Chill in the freezer until cookies are stiff.  This will help them keep their shape while baking.  Bake cookies 15-20 minutes, or until edges are just golden. Cool on rack.

When cool, spread a generous layer of raspberry jam on the bottom of one cookie and top with a second cookie.  Gently press together. If you let them sit for a bit, the jam will set a little, and they will be less messy.

Enjoy with tea.

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