Jam-filled shortbread knows many variations. Perhaps the most popular is Hungarian shortbread, a match made in cholesterol heaven, with plenty of butter cozying up to sugar, flour, and sunny egg yolks. Julia Child is credited with the recipe and so is Gale Gand and Dorie Greenspan. Czech cookbooks dub the cookie omlos teasutemeny, roughly translated into ‘short pastry biscuit.’ South African cookbooks share a similar shortbread recipe and plenty of Jewish grandmothers baked a version, adding ground walnuts to the mix because they couldn’t leave well enough alone. My friend Jane DeAngelo who lived to be 100, made an Italian version she called Biscotti con Marmellata. Some recipes called for hard boiled egg yolks, but Jane used yolks directly out of the shell, flavoring the dough with just a hint of vanilla or almond extract. Once the dough was mixed and then frozen, Jane subjected the dough to a box grater, letting the shards fall into a rimmed cookie sheet. The next layer was jam, sometimes apricot, sometimes raspberry, followed by another layer of grated dough. Hot out of the oven, the bar cookies received a liberal dousing of confectioners’ sugar. I vividly remember Jane’s knack for cutting the bars into perfectly identical, slender, rectangular fingers without benefit of a ruler. Gliding a thin bladed knife through the hot tray, the fluffy crumbs of shortbread would shatter, sending tiny wisps of powdered sugar into the air.
I encountered two roadblocks on my way to Hungarian shortbread nirvana this week. The first was the dreaded ‘pan conversion.’ Despite more than enough resources available for guidance, I fumbled through my kitchen cabinet, stacking an assortment of square and rectangular pans on the counter. An entire pound of butter seemed awfully excessive for a mid-week bake, and half of a recipe seemed overly generous for two people. I didn’t want to use a springform pan, and I didn’t want to line anything with slings of parchment paper. Sorting through a stack of tart pans felt promising, unearthing a long forgotten fluted rectangular pan measuring eight inches by eleven. The shortbread dough filled the pan generously but without excess, negating any reason to steal a glance at that damn pan conversion chart.
My Hungarian shortbread experience was far from flawless, however. In the final moments, just after retrieving the hot pan from the oven, I set it down on a level, heat-proof surface. Carefully filling a fine mesh strainer with an avalanche of powdered sugar, I promptly bumped the strainer on the edge of the counter, watching in slow motion horror as the indelibly white sugar blanketed my very navy blue shirt, sweats, and sneakers.
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