It’s cookie time again. Who can resist cookies that are buttery, tender, crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth? Definitely not me. I have already discussed the keys to success when it comes to making piped or spritz cookies (read about my blog posts, Espresso Chocolate Spritz Cookies and Viennese Sabés). Now I’d like to elaborate more. This time I will focus on the main ingredients as well as some other aspects that would make an impact on your cookies. It’s gonna be a lengthy post so bear with me. If you are not interested at all or hate reading, feel free to scroll down and jump right into the recipe part. I developed this recipe with reference to some online recipes. I’ve experimented with different ingredients and come up with a straightforward method. You will be amazed to discover that making beautiful shortbread cookies is not intimidating at all.
Understanding how the ingredients work together and the science behind them could help you improve your baking skills. It also allows you to tweak an existing recipe to fit your taste. Let’s go over each ingredients in my cookie recipe.
Butter is what make your shortbread cookies shine. Here you really need to choose a high-quality butter. I typically use unsalted butter as it allows me to control the amount of salt. I have experimented with both regular butter and European-style cultured butter and I chose the latter for my recipe despite its extra cost. European-style butter contains a higher butterfat content (a minimum of 82% compared to 80% in regular North American butter) so it has a much richer taste. It feels softer than regular butter under room temperature. The addition of lactic cultures in the production of cultured butter creates a tangy taste which is distinctive. The acidic nature of the butter further softens the dough and makes the cookies extra tender, which is a bonus for shortbread cookies. This is also the reason why I always replace milk with sour cream or homemade buttermilk in my butter cake or cupcake recipes (read about my blog post, Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake for an example). If you would like to read more about the differences between these butters, feel free to check out this article from Bon Appétit.
牛油曲奇，顧名思義，是用牛油做的曲奇。牛油是主角嘛，因此選用高質素的牛油是理所當然的。 為了能更好控製烘焙成品的鹽量，EC一般只使用無鹽牛油。此外，EC比較過普通牛油和歐式發酵牛油， 縱然後者價錢較貴，最終仍選擇以此撰寫食譜。 歐式發酵牛油的乳脂含量至少在82%以上(北美的普遍牛油只是80%)，奶香味很濃郁，室溫下比普通牛油軟身。 牛油在生產過程中加入了乳酸菌， 發酵過後味道帶點微酸，風味非常獨特。牛油中的酸能進一步軟化麵糰，以致曲奇口感更鬆軟，這正是EC常常使用酸忌廉或自製白脫牛奶(buttermilk)代替牛奶做牛油蛋糕和杯子蛋糕的原因(例子可參考朱古力酸忌廉蛋糕)。 若要進一步了解普通牛油和發酵牛油的分別，請參考Bon Appétit的這篇網誌。
Make sure your butter are extremely soft before you begin. Unless you live in an area with super hot weather, “room temperature butter” simply won’t describe it. Re-read my beginning sentence. When I say “extremely soft”, I mean really really really soft. I am talking about butter that is as soft as mayonnaise or toothpaste. I even soak my mixing bowl in warm water in order to further soften my softened butter. This is the only butter consistency to create a soft dough that can be easily and smoothly piped out without any addition of liquid. If your dough is too stiff, you will usually end up with one (or more) of the following situations: (1) you have a hard time piping; (2) your piping bag bursts during piping; and (3) your piped out shapes have cracks all around the edges as the dough is not smooth enough.
牛油必須回溫到非常，非常，非常軟身才可使用。除非居住地區十分炎熱，否則“室溫牛油”並不足以形容所需之牛油軟度。請重複閱讀此段落，EC說牛油要非常，非常，非常軟身啊！說了三次“非常”， 這裏所指的是蛋黃醬或牙膏等的軟度！EC甚至會把鋼盆浸在暖水中幫助軟化室溫牛油，因為只有這麼軟的牛油才能在不額外添加液體之情況下做出容易擠出的軟滑麵糰。麵糰過硬的話一般只有以下收場： 1)出盡九牛二虎之力方可擠出麵糰；2)唧花中途唧袋爆破；3)擠出的麵糰過硬並不順滑，邊緣充滿裂痕影響外觀。
Flour plays a crucial part in determining both the texture and structure of your baked goods. In general, wheat flour with lower protein content produces cookies that are tender and crumbly. The low protein wheat flour here in Canada are called Cake and Pastry Flour. It is made from soft wheat and has a protein content of 10%. In my shortbread recipe, cornstarch is added to further reduce the protein content in order to create a more melt-in-your-mouth texture. On the other hand, wheat flour with higher protein content yields a stronger structure. Canadian all-purpose flour typically consists of both hard red spring wheat and soft wheat and has a protein content of 13%. Cookies with a strong structure are better at maintaining their shapes. Look at the pictures of my Espresso Chocolate Spritz Cookies which were made solely with all purpose flour. They have a more defined shape due to a stronger structure. The cookies were more of a crunchy type.
I have tried this recipe with granulated sugar, organic cane sugar as well as icing/powdered sugar. Both granulated sugar and organic cane sugar make cookies crispy. Tastewise i like organic cane sugar the best. The cookies have a subtle flavor of sugarcane that I definitely enjoy. In fact I have switched to this type of sugar in all my baked goods for some time. However, in terms of tenderness, icing sugar is the winner. Icing sugar is just very finely ground white sugar with cornstarch added to prevent it from clumping together. My deduction is that the cornstarch has further lowered the protein content, contributing to the tenderness.
Vanilla Bean Paste
Vanilla bean paste is a thick syrup-like mixture made with pure vanilla extract, vanilla beans, water and sugar with a thickener such as xanthan gum or gum tragacanth added. It is so much stronger than pure vanilla extract and is a lot more affordable than vanilla beans. I like it also because It adds a freckled appearance on the baked goods. If you don’t have any vanilla bean paste or would like a more economical option then pure vanilla extract of good quality would be a close substitute. It can be used as a one to one substitute for vanilla bean paste but there won’t be any specks of black. Avoid any cheap imitation vanilla extract as its flavor is not even close to the real thing.
Salt is a flavor enhancer and a small pinch will do the job. There is a large variety of salt available on the market but sea salt and pink Himalayan salt are my personal favorites. Pay attention to the grain size though. If coarse salt is used, less of it will fit in your measuring spoon and vice versa. Unless otherwise specified, fine salt is what I use in all my recipes.
Apart from ingredients, here are some more tips I would like to share with you:
First I’d like to talk about the mixing method. You may notice that my instructions are rather simple and straightforward. One bowl of very soft butter with flavoring mixed in. One bowl of dry ingredients. Fold the two together then you are done! This is an eggless recipe and there is no liquid except that little half teaspoonful of vanilla paste. So what we really need is simply to fold the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. We are not making cakes here in which the granulated sugar and butter are creamed together on high speed to create little air bubbles. No special tool is required and a spatula is all we need. This is my tried-and-true method and the outcome is no different than the traditional method in which the icing sugar is first mixed with the butter, then followed by the flour mixture. In fact by just folding you have eliminated the chance of overwhipping.
Maintaining Cookie Shapes
For cookies with more definition, do not whip air into your butter or incorporate any leavening agent such as baking powder or baking soda into your dough. If the mixing is too fast or too long, air will be whipped into the butter (it will look pale and fluffy). Tiny air bubbles trapped inside the aerated dough will expand in the hot oven and ruin your beautifully piped shapes. Expansion will also happen if leavening agent is added. If you follow my way and start off with super soft butter, which is less likely to trap air, the chance of over whipping will be minimized. After all, whipping is unnecessary for cookies. This cookie dough can be easily prepared with just a spatula. Also because the butter is so soft, there is no need to add extra liquid to the batter to make it soft and pipable. Hence, the butter flavor is kept to a maximum without being diluted and at the same time the moisture from the dough is kept to a minimum (a low moisture cookie dough results in a crumbly texture). You could even pop the cookies right into the oven after piping without sacrificing much shapes despite its lower gluten level.
若要曲奇入爐後保持形狀花紋不瀉開，攪拌牛油時切忌把大量空氣混入或使用泡打粉和梳打粉等膨脹劑。 攪拌速度太快或過久均會令牛油飽含空氣(就是打發到蓬鬆發白的樣子)。受困於麵糰中的氣泡入爐後會膨脹影響花紋，配方不添加任何膨脹劑也是源於同一道理。EC的方法是使用非常柔軟的室溫牛油，此溫度能降低牛油包含氣泡的能力，避免攪拌時空氣大量進入。 畢竟製作曲奇麵糰是不用使勁攪打的，EC沒有使用攪拌機，靠的只是一支膠刮。亦因為牛油夠軟身，配方並不需額外加入液體令其軟化或易於擠出，牛油香味既不會被淡化，麵糰水份含量也保持最低(水份含量低的曲奇麵糊更能做出鬆化口感)。擠好花後不用冷藏便可直接把烤盆送進焗爐，花紋也不會因麵粉筋度低而盡失。
If your oven has a convection setting, do use it when baking cookies. During convection baking, a fan will be turned on which circulates hot air around the oven and your food in a steady stream. This will allow you to bake your cookies evenly without the need of rotating pans. Compared to traditional setting, I usually lower my oven temperature slightly by 25℉/15℃ so my cookies won’t brown too soon or have a contrast between the edges and the center. Shallow or even rimless baking sheets are preferred as the the circulation of hot air in the oven would not be blocked. If you only have a baking sheet or pan with tall, rolled edges, consider baking with the sheet upside down. This was how I baked my cookies before I invested in my first rimless cookie sheet. Like I have always written in my recipes (this is like a disclaimer lol), we all have different ovens so what works for my oven might not work on yours. Make friends with your own oven and adjust the oven temperatures and baking time accordingly.
焗爐若有熱風對流功能，焗製曲奇時請選擇此設定。熱風對流的原理是借助風扇將熱空氣吹出，在焗爐內循環並環繞食物，曲奇在爐中均勻受熱，不用為了上色均一而在烘焙中途轉換焗盆位置。 相比一般焗爐模式(即只用上下發熱線)，EC一般會稍微調低爐溫約25℉/15℃防止曲奇過早上色或曲奇邊緣和中央出現兩截色。 此外，使用熱風對流焗曲奇時最好使用淺身甚至無邊焗盆。高身焗盆會阻擋熱風影響食物整體受熱，倘若沒有適合焗盆可考慮把高身焗盆整個反轉使用，這是EC未添置無邊焗盆時的良策。EC每次寫食譜時均會提醒大家(這是免責聲明哦！)，因為各家焗爐不同，因此烘焙時請按需要自行調整焗爐溫度及烘焙時間，好好跟家中焗爐溝通做朋友吧！
Choice of Pan
Note that the color of your pan matters too. Darker pans heat up faster and absorb more heat so your cookies will more likely to develop a darker bottom. I like to use thick, light colored cookie sheet. Thick baking sheets cost more but it’s worth the money as they are less likely to warp or buckle at high temperatures. Have you ever heard a loud popping sound in your oven during baking? That is because the baking pan is stressed at the folded edge under heat. The bottom of the baking pan expands when heated but such expansion is restricted by the folded up edges along the sides. When the edges can no longer hold the stress, the bottom warps and makes a loud popping sound. The pan will go back to its normal shape after cooling. However, when the stress is so much that the materials is not strong enough to handle it, which happens often in thin baking pans, the pan will be permanently bent. Read about this article from LloydPans to find out more.
It’s totally up to you how you want to pipe your cookies. In general, larger and thicker cookies take more time to bake. For evenly piped cookies, I do cheat by placing a template underneath my parchment paper. Line cookie sheet with a circle template (I use my macaron mat), cover with a piece of parchment paper (I place strong magnets on top to hold it down), then pipe your soft dough while using the circles as a guideline. After piping simply take off the magnets, slide the mat out and pop the cookie sheet into the preheated oven right away. I don’t bake cookies directly on my macaron mat. In fact, with the exception of macarons, I no longer bake with silicone mat or cake mold now as they tend to absorb oil and pick up food smell pretty easily. I have a few of them but after a period of usage my mats started to feel greasy and smell funky and I could not remove the stain nor odor. I ended up ditching them and switched back to parchment paper. The new mats I bought were for macaron making only.
做形時絕對可以按喜好自行決定擠花形狀與大小 。一般來說，麵糰形狀越大或越厚，烘焙時間便要相對地延長。至於如何擠出大小均一的麵糰，實不相瞞，EC會借助貓紙！ 首先把畫有圓形的紙樣放在焗盆上(EC使用馬卡龍墊)，再蓋上牛油紙(可以用磁石固定位置)，然後便可依圓形作界線開始擠花了！完成擠花後取走磁石和底部的紙樣便可進行烘焙。EC沒有直接使用馬卡龍墊作底墊焗製曲奇，基本上除了馬卡龍外，EC現已沒再使用任何矽膠墊或矽膠模具於烘焙上。 矽膠物料容易吸油和吸味，EC曾擁有幾張矽膠墊，但是用了一段時間後墊子巳發黃變得油膩，表面的油漬及氣味怎樣也不能去除。後來索性放棄使用重投牛油紙的懷抱，之後重新購買的馬卡龍墊只供馬卡龍使用。
I think that’s pretty much it for my sharing. Did you really read til the end? Feel free to share your tips with me too!
Piped Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies
Makes 30 to 33
120 g unsalted European-style cultured butter, very soft
1/4 tsp sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
100 g cake and pastry flour
50 g cornstarch
40 g icing sugar
無鹽歐式發酵牛油 (室溫回軟) 120克
Preheat oven to 325℉/160℃ fan forced. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
To further soften the room temperature butter, cut it into small pieces then place in a large mixing bowl. Submerge bowl in lukewarm water and mix until the butter is very very soft (it will look shiny with a mayonnaise-like texture). Add salt and vanilla then mix until smooth.
Combine and sift together the flour, cornstarch and icing sugar. Fold into the butter mixture in two to three batches with a spatula. Stop mixing once a soft dough is formed. Do not over-mix.
Transfer batter into a piping bag fitted with a large pastry tip (I used a 1F large sized sakura tip). Eliminate any trapped air bubbles then pipe batter onto the baking sheet.
Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges. Cool completely on a cooling rack. For a more melt-in-the-mouth texture, store cookies in an airtight container and consume the next day.
Here is how I prepare my baking sheet by placing a macaron mat under my parchment paper as a template.
This was a not-so-good batch. Oven temperature was a bit too high which caused the cookies to spread and crack.
Cultured butter has lactic cultures added as an ingredients. European-style butter has a minimum of 82% butterfat content.
If you want to republish this recipe, please link back to this post.
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