15 September 2007

Summitting My Own Everest

Yes, indeed, after much noodling with many recipes, I have conquered the Everest that is shortbread. If you're new to this blog, my main challenge is to alter recipes, specifically desert recipes, to fit within my dietary restrictions. Where this comes into play with shortbread is in the ingredients. Traditional shortbread does not contain any liquid ingredients (butter is still solid at room temperature, and sugar, while considered a liquid ingredient in the most technical sense, still behaves as a dry ingredient in terms of strict liquid/dry ratios).

So, how did I manage those gorgeous shortbread slices above? Well, I turned once again to one of my favorite cookbooks, Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant. If you've been here before, you might remember the Moosey Hamantaschen I altered. Given the success rate with Moosewood recipes, I thought I ought to give their "Halvah Shortbread" a try.

I grew up (for the most part) with my Dad. When my Mom would come to pick me up for a visit, sometimes we'd drive into Caldwell, NJ (not far from Dad's) to the local cheese shop for a treat. That treat was fresh halvah, a sesame treat made with honey and sometimes nuts. The shop owner would carve a thick slice from a giant wheel and pack it in stiff white paper before handing it to me for safekeeping until we could sit somewhere and enjoy it.

When I initially saw the recipe, I put it aside because it seemed like a winter treat. But the nights are growing chillier these days, and I had a hankering for some halvah.

I made quite a few substitutions and changes to get the recipe just right:

1. Cut the butter by 1/4.
2. Used 1 cup of agave nectar instead of 1 1/4 cups of brown sugar
3. Used 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour instead of 2 cups unbleached pastry flour.
4. Used 1/2 cup coconut flour.
5. Reduced the oven heat to 325 degrees F, and baked it for nearly an hour.
6. Used one tart pan instead of two pie plates, and made mine super-thick (hence the extended baking time).

Just a warning: These are very rich, yet not too buttery so they can become habit forming. The tahini gives the cookies an other-worldly flavor that people just can't put their fingers on when they try them without knowing it's the sesame paste. In short, I think they're heavenly.

When I brought these to a gathering last week, they were snapped up pretty quickly (even though I was late, and folks had already had other cookies). The highest compliment came from actions, not words. As soon as I'd placed the container with the other goodies and took my seat, a friend quickly rose to his feet and headed over for a taste before anyone else could grab a shortbread slice. I guess I'm getting a reputation from my baked goods.

Here's the recipe as I made it:


1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup tahini (I strongly recommend Maranatha brand organic tahini. It's superb.)
pinch of salt
1 cup agave nectar
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup toasted pecans, ground
1/4 cup pecan halves (for decorating)


1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a tart pan.
2. Cream the butter with the tahini.
3. Mix in the salt and agave nectar until smooth.

4. Slowly add the flours until well incorporated.

5. Mix in the nuts. Your dough should be creamy, but very thick.
6. Spread the mixture into your prepared tart pan and decorate with the pecan halves.

6. Bake in the center of the oven for an hour, but check it every 15 minutes so that it doesn't become too brown.

7. When the edges begin to brown, use a piece of aluminum foil to cover the edges. An easy way to do this is to measure out a piece the size of your pan, fold it in half and cut out a center section an inch or two from the edge, so your middle section can brown in peace.

8. Let it cool in the pan for 20 minutes (it should still be pretty warm, if not hot), then remove it by putting a flat surface (like a cutting board) on top and upending the tart pan so that your flat surface is now on your counter and the pan is face down on top of it. Remove the pan and cut into 1/4 in. slices. Cool the slices on a rack.

9. And, for Pete's sake, try one while it's still warm!

These are now my favorite cookies. Let me know how yours turn out!

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