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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Pistachio shortbreads with cardamom

One of these days, I am going to become the kind of person that always has homemade cookie dough in the freezer – always half an hour away from a freshly baked cookie. What could be better? And these babies are a pretty fantastic place to start. This is another recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook, which is definitely up there with the greats. I have now made 6 dishes from this book and they have all turned out perfectly, and my friends who have tried others say that they were all brilliant too. To have a book with inspiring recipes, interesting prose, fantastic photos and recipes that actually work is pretty special.

These were first made to celebrate a working oven at our little flat in Willesden – for the first time since moving in a year and a half ago, we have an oven whose temperatures I trust. Precision is pretty fundamental to baking. I have made these a few times first without the pistachio border (I didn’t have any pistachios) and I thought they were brilliant – but then I tried them with the nuts and oh wow. They add a sort of savoury, complex balance that’s hard to explain, but really really delicious.

Makes about 20 cookies – fits perfectly on 2 baking trays so no need to cook in batches.

8 cardamom pods
200g unsalted butter – softened
25g ground rice or rice flour (this is really vital to making these cookies ‘not just short, but positively tiny’ and can be found in healthfood stores and good supermarkets)
240g plain flour
½ tsp salt
35g icing sugar
60g shelled pistachio nuts chopped finely with a knife or food processor – not as fine as ground almonds – you want some larger lumps too
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp (or so) vanilla sugar (if you don’t happen to store your vanilla pods in sugar, you can buy vanilla sugar quite cheaply in supermarkets in handy little shakers)

Use a pestle and mortar to split the cardamom pods and grind their seeds into a fine powder.
Ottolenghi suggests using an electric mixer with a beater attachment to make the dough, but I managed pretty well with a big bowl and a spoon. Either way, you want to incorporate the flours, cardamom, salt, icing sugar and butter until it forms a dough. If doing this by hand it may help to soften the butter for about 10 seconds in the microwave first (you do not want it melted).
Turn the dough out and roll it into a log 3-4cm in diameter. This can either be done by dusting it in a little flour, or with a piece of cling film folded over the dough. Either way, when it is shaped, wrap the log in cling film and leave it in the fridge to set for at least half an hour.
Brush the cookie dough log with the beaten egg and roll it in the ground pistachios, and then wrap it back in the cling film and put it back in the fridge for at least another half hour.
While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 150c (with fan). When ready, remove the cling film from the dough and cut the log into slices 5mm – 1cm thick. Lay them on trays lined with baking parchment (or foil, parchment is better though), and dust with the vanilla sugar.
Bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes – you want them to look slightly golden but not much more than that. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool before carefully removing from the tray – except for that one, slightly misshapen one that gets picked up hot off the tray, just for quality control though! Store the cookies in a sealed jar, box or cookie tin.

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