Baking for two hundred with a baby on my hip presented the obvious challenges: Vita did her best to be helpful but she was a little clumsy with the measuring spoons and kept dipping her hands into the cookie dough when I turned my back. Alex never fails to remind me that I could just buy some cookies, put out some cider and call it a day. But, as my dear friend Sara once said, "I've never met someone who likes to inconvenience herself as much as you." Cooking and baking tend to restore my energy rather than drain it, but I have a habit of going a little overboard and having to put out a few literal fires to get dinner on the table. With Vita as my sous chef, I'm finally starting to learn to bite off only as much as I can chew. So although I didn't make half of what I'd set out to make, we somehow took 280 cookies, 4 quiches, 4 quick breads, & 3 dips out of the oven for the kiln opening.
I like to keep things fresh and try new cookie recipes each year, but these honeyed-almond shortbread have ended up on my kiln opening make list since 2009 and I get at least 6 or 7 requests for the recipe before noon. They’re not too sweet, a little bit salty, and keep for days; but if you're as advanced of a cookie eater as I am they should be gone within three.
Honeyed Almond-Cherry Shortbread
Adapted from Martha Stewart Magazine, 2009
The original MS recipe calls for cherries, orange zest, dry sherry, & almonds, but get crazy and try them with dried apricots or cranberries, mandarin or Meyer lemon zest, your favorite fortified wine and coarsely chopped pistachios.
First, MACERATE the cherries:
1 Cup dried tart cherries, roughly chopped
4 Tablespoons of dry sherry, sweet vermouth, amaro, or whatever fortified wine strikes your fancy (though if you use a very sweet wine like Marsala I would use lemon zest instead of orange)
Zest of 1 lemon, orange, Buddha's hand, whatever citrus you have around!
Combine these ingredients in a small bowl (we've got some perfect ones in the online shop!), let stand for about an hour, giving an occasional stir.
While those sit, honey the almonds:
½ Cup of honey
2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 Cups of gently toasted almond slivers (Trader Joe's sells a bag that's exactly two cups)
1 heaping teaspoon of flaky, coarse salt (Like this Bull's Bay salt from South Carolina, or Maldon)
½ Teaspoon of vanilla
Combine the honey and butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the liquid is fragrant and just beginning to get a little darker. This takes about 5 minutes. Stir constantly and don't walk away!
Then, turn down the heat and add the almonds, salt & vanilla. Stir until the almonds are coated thoroughly. Remove from the heat and dump and spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat (my favorite kitchen tool! If you don't have one, treat yourself) All the mixture to cool completely and then coarsely chop.
Now for the dough:
2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature or a little softer
3/4 Cups of Powdered Sugar
2 ¼ Cups of All-Purpose, Unbleached flour
1 ¼ Teaspoons coarse salt
Cream the butter & sugar in a mixer on HIGH until pale & fluffy, around 3 minutes. Turn down the speed and mix in the cherries until combined. Add the flour & and salt and mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl. Add the almonds and give it another little mix. Don't overdo it!
Turn the dough onto a floured surface or a piece of parchment paper and work into a long, rectangular log. You can use a ruler to press against the sides to get straight edges or just wrap the log in parchment paper and gently bang it agains the tabletop until all the edges are flat(ish). Don't worry too much about it looking perfect!
Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour or up to 2 days. If you'd like to use it later, freeze it at this point - it freezes very well!
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Once the dough is firm, cut 1/4 inch thick slices with a sharp knife. Arrange on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet. The dought doesn't budge much, so go ahead and crowd the baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Let cook completely. They'll stay tasty all week in an airtight container.