Vail baking column: Stars and stripes shortbread a fun treat for the 4th
High Country Baking
Vail, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
This shortbread has “The Fourth of July” written all over it. Whether you’re taking a picnic to the fireworks display or hanging out in your backyard, this dessert should be on your menu. Fun, festive, enjoyed by both kids and adults, it’s perfect for a casual outdoor meal. And, it’s easy to make, transport, and serve, letting you relax and enjoy the holiday activities along with your family and friends.
The shortbread’s appeal is due to its simplicity. A buttery, vanilla crust, made tender and crumbly by the addition of cornstarch, cradles a layer of sweet raspberry preserves showered with stars made from the same delicate dough.
With so few ingredients, it’s critical to the cookie’s success to use good ones: fresh unsalted butter, real vanilla, and the best jam you can find; they account for all of the taste. To get the lovely, light texture, handle the dough gently and don’t overwork it.
If you’re transporting the shortbread, leave it in the pan, covered with plastic wrap or foil, until you reach your destination. Once there, remove it from the pan, place it on a platter or serving tray, and cut it into squares.
Make the shortbread the morning you’re going to serve it or even the day before. Store it, covered, at cool room temperature.
Stars and Stripes Shortbread
Make in a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan with low sides
2 cups of all purpose flour
1/3 cup of cornstarch
3/4 cup of granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s, plus additional for sprinkling on cookies
1 teaspoon of salt
16 tablespoons of unsalted butter (two sticks)
1 generous teaspoon of vanilla
1 1/3 (approximately) cups of seedless raspberry jam or preserves
1 egg yolk mixed with a teaspoon of water
Step one: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the baking pan with Reynold’s non-stick release foil or with regular foil. If using regular foil, grease it. Let the foil hang over the short sides of the pan several inches to use as handles when removing the baked shortbread.
Step two: To make in a food processor: Combine the flour, cornstarch, granulated sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are fully combined. Cut the butter into sixteen pieces and add them, along with the vanilla, to the bowl. Process until the dough is uniformly moistened and forms big curds. There should be no dry ingredients visible at the bottom of the bowl. Stop before the dough forms a smooth dough or a ball.
To make with a mixer: Let the butter come to room temperature and cream it, with the sugar, salt, and vanilla until light. Add the flour and cornstarch and beat until combined.
Step three: Turn the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper and gently press it together into a rough disc. Cut it into two pieces, one slightly larger (about three-fifths of the dough) than the other. Pat the smaller piece into a disc, wrap it in the waxed paper, and refrigerate it until it is firm enough to roll. Break the remaining dough into pieces and scatter them all over the bottom of the prepared pan. Smooth and press them into the pan (doing this through a piece of plastic wrap speeds up the process) until they form a level crust. If the dough has softened, place it in the refrigerator to firm up.
Step Four: Spoon the raspberry preserves into a bowl and stir until they are a spreadable consistency. If necessary, warm them briefly in the microwave (they shouldn’t get hot; only warm enough to spread). Spread them evenly over the crust. Set this aside. Remove the disc of dough from the refrigerator, place it between two sheets of waxed paper, and roll to a uniform thickness of about one-eighth of an inch. Using star cookie cutters (I used three different sizes), cut out as many stars as possible. If the dough gets soft, slip it on a baking sheet and freeze it for several minutes until it’s easy to work with. Randomly place the stars on the raspberry jam. Re-roll the dough and repeat. Make as many stars as possible; the more stars, the better the shortbread looks.
Step Five: Carefully glaze the stars with the egg yolk-water mixture and top each with a sprinkle of granulated sugar. Bake until the stars turn golden and the jam bubbles. Start checking after the shortbread has been in the oven 33 minutes or so. Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. Use the foil handles to lift the shortbread from the pan before cutting into squares.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Vera Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.