Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sour Cherry Shortbread Hearts

I had planned on making sugar cookies for Valentine’s Day. However, the thought of dirtying my countertops, rolling out dough, baking multiple batches, and decorating the cookies with icing, tipped me towards a simpler solution. I just wanted heart-shaped cookies without the fuss, so I adapted a Martha Stewart shortbread recipe I had encountered several years ago.

I've loved shortbread for as long as I can remember. As a child, I coveted Walkers shortbread fingers in the red tartan box. Later, I baked shortbread in the form of petticoat tails and rounds. I also loved my mother’s nankhatai, a ‘Gujarati shortbread’ that contains cardamom and semolina. Here is a pistachio version and a chocolate swirl version. And here is a favorite shortbread recipe I made for Hanukkah.

Shortbread is a Scottish treat traditionally made with one part sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour. The modifier ‘short’ is an archaic synonym for crumbly; which is due to the high butter content. This is also the origin of the word shortening. Shortbread is baked at a low temperature to avoid browning.

The use of powdered sugar instead of granulated white sugar contributes to the incredibly delicate, melt-in-your-mouth quality of these cookies. This recipe makes just enough hearts for one or two people to indulge and it requires very little cleanup.

Makes 14 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 drops red food coloring (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dried sour cherries or other dried fruit, finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. In a large bowl, mix butter and powdered sugar with a wooden spoon. Add vanilla and food coloring and mix well.
3. Add salt and flour and mix until combined. Fold in cherries and mix well.
4. Transfer dough into a 9-inch square, ungreased baking pan. Pat dough with fingers until it is evenly distributed in the pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until shortbread turns brown at the edges.
5. Allow to cool for 20 minutes. Then cut out cookies using a 2-inch heart cookie cutter. The shortbread is very delicate. Use a sharp knife to gently trim stray cherries from cookie. Use a smaller cookie cutter for trimmings.
6. Store cookies and trimmings in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.