Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pistachio Shortbread

Pistachios are native to Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan and the first archeological record of their consumption dates to 6760BC in what is present day Jordan. They were brought to Italy from Syria during the reign of Tiberius in the first century. The word derives from Persian and comes to English via Latin.

While Iran still leads in international pistachio production, the United States is a close second. Until the 1970s, most pistachio consumed in the U.S. were imported from Iran. After relations between the two countries deteriorated starting in the 1970s, Americans started growing these nuts on plantations in California.

Pistachios are often eaten whole – salted or roasted - and are a popular flavoring in sweets such as ice cream, cookies and puddings. They are even more common in confections from the Middle East and South Asia including baklava and burfi among many others. These nuts are also traditionally used to make mortadella, an Italian pork sausage flavored with spices, nuts and herbs, and widely used in savory dishes from India, Iran and North Africa.

Research shows that pistachios significantly reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase antioxidant level in humans. In rats, they increase HDL (good) cholesterol without decreasing bad cholesterol.

This recipe is my adaptation of nan khatai, an Ismaili shortbread previously featured on this site.

Makes 24 cookies

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
3/4 cups white sugar
1 egg
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup semolina
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped
1-2 tablespoons milk
pistachios, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 300 F. Grease or line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour, semolina, baking powder, cardamom, nutmeg and pistachios. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Add egg and mix well.
4. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. It may take a few minutes to incorporate all the flour. Add milk to soften the dough.
5. To form cookies, roll 2 tablespoons of dough between the palms of your hands to form a circular disk (thicker in the middle than at the edges). Place on a baking sheet and flatten slightly.
6. To decorate, gently press a pistachio into the center of each cookie.
7. Bake for 20-22 minutes until you see a hint of color. Do not bake until golden brown. Remove immediately to a wire rack to prevent further baking. Once cool, cookies should break easily but not be crumbly. If the cookies are crisp, then they were over-baked.

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