Friday, March 2, 2012

Parmesan Shortbread With Fennel & Sea Salt

If you live in San Francisco or have ever visited, you know that Blue Bottle Coffee is sort of a San Franciscan institution. People may debate that Four Barrel, Ritual, Sight Glass or even Philz has better coffee (of which I have no opinion since I drink tea), but regardless of who is right I think most would agree that Blue Bottle is by far the most respectable and long lasting great cup of Joe in the city. 

But what many may not know, even if you do frequent Blue Bottle, is that they have some tasty baked goods behind the glass: Absinthe & Sesame Biscotti, Double-Chocolate Recchiuti Cookies, Homemade Granola and the cookie featured in this post: Parmesan Shortbread with Fennel & Sea Salt.

I will admit, I am sort of a sucker for recipes with interesting combinations of flavor, and this recipe is no exception. However, that affinity does not always do me right. Sometimes I try recipes where the creator is just trying to hard to make weird and trendy things taste good together and the final product ends up falling flat, but sometimes I strike flavor gold like I did with this shortbread cookie.

Most dessert recipes that are savory/sweet are mostly sweet with a little savory, however, the opposite is true with this cookie. The parmesan, fennel seed, black pepper and sea salt take the main flavor stage while the confectioners sugar plays a much lighter melody in the background that smooths out the others and makes the cookie very... how shall I say... very edible in the way you would call a good table wine very drinkable. In short it is a fantastic cookie you could serve alongside, after or between any meal. 

Let's just say like Blue Bottle in SF, this cookie will become institution in my kitchen.

Parmesan Shortbread With Fennel & Sea Salt
*adapted from Bon Appetit
*makes 18 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour plus more
1 cup finely micro-planed Parmesan (about 2 ounces) (micro-plane = zester)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt or other coarse salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a medium bowl on low speed until smooth, 1–2 minutes. Add powdered sugar, pepper, and kosher salt. Reduce speed to medium and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until light and fluffy, 4–5 minutes. Add flour and cheese. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat mixture just until dough comes together.

2. Wrap dough in plastic and flatten into a rectangle. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Dough can be made 5 days ahead. Keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before continuing.

3. Place fennel seeds in a resealable plastic freezer bag. Coarsely crush with a rolling pin or the bottom of a skillet. Alternatively, pulse in a spice mill until coarsely crushed. Transfer to a small bowl; stir in sea salt. Set fennel salt aside.

4. Arrange a rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove plastic wrap from dough. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10x8-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Cut in thirds crosswise, then cut each third crosswise into 6 rectangles. Arrange cookies on prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Brush cookies generously with oil, then sprinkle with fennel salt.

5. Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until cookies are golden brown (flecks of cheese will be slightly darker), 20–24 minutes. Let cool on sheets for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room tem-perature. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

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