Lavender-Almond Shortbread

While my mom and I were in Switzerland in June 2009, our first stop was Lausanne, where we arrived the day after Roger Federer won the French Open. This became handy when we received star treatment around the whole country thanks to our fortunate last name (and yes, he is actually a distant relative. Really distant).

In Lausanne, there is a lovely pedestrian area, and on the corner, a tea store had a walk-up window where they were selling delicious shortbread cookies with different kinds of tea baked into them. The tea was coarsely ground and mixed in the dough, which gave a pleasant little crunch and delicately perfumed the cookie. I know it might sound odd to eat largish bits of tea leaves, it’s actually something I’ve very much enjoyed ever since I first tried it in San Francisco. Then, it was in the form of a cardamom-bergamot bread pudding that was flavored with Earl Grey leaves, from a really, really wonderful tea room near the Castro called Samovar.

It took a long time for me to get around to baking these cookies. I came back from France in summer 2010 with some delicious Kusmi almond green tea. To me, it looks and tastes more like a black tea than a green tea, but either way, the almond is the dominant flavor. Taking a whiff of the leaves is not that different from taking a whiff of almond extract. Anyway, I brought home a big tin of it and was thinking about how I could use it in recipes, and these shortbread cookies came to mind.

The recipe is modified from a Martha Stewart recipe for Earl Grey Shortbread. The first time I made it, I coarsely ground the tea with a mortar and pestle. The second time I decided to throw some lavender flowers in, too, which turned out to be a nice touch. I was worried that it might be too flowery, especially because the lavender flowers didn’t really crush much in the mortar and pestle, but it turned out subtle enough for me. Make sure you use real butter in these! In my opinion, European butter like President and Plugra are the best, and it makes a big difference in getting a rich, buttery cookie.

Lavender-Almond Shortbread Cookies

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 Tablespoons ground tea leaves (in this case, I used 1 T lavender flowers and about 1.5 T Kusmi almond green tea)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room-temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, tea, and salt in a small bowl.
2. Cream the butter with the sugar in a stand mixer. Let it mix for about 3 minutes (that seemed excessive to me, but it makes a huge difference in making the cookies lighter and fluffier).
3. Thoroughly mix in the flour mixture.
4. Turn dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper. Form into a single log and use the paper to wrap it and form it into a roughly circular shape. At this point, you may choose to bake them right away or chill them. The original recipe says to chill for at least half an hour, but I find it easier to cut the dough when it’s still room-temperature.
5. When you’re ready to bake, cut logs into about 1/4 inch slices and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat.
6. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned on top, about 13-15 minutes.

I got a little more than a dozen onto my cookie sheet, and I wrapped up the rest in parchment paper and put it in a plastic bag in the freezer. There was too much for me to throw away, but not enough for me to be seriously bothered if it didn’t turn out. I’m not sure when I’ll get around to baking them, but I will let you know what I find out when I try it!

Winter Granola

Photo courtesy of Closet Cooking.  That’s right, this isn’t actually my granola.
Next time I make it, I’ll snap a pic and add it.

Inspired by a post about granola by my favorite food blogger, Chocolate and Zucchini, I decided to make some of my own this afternoon. I wanted to do a pumpkin pie spice granola, but I realized that my spice shelf is sadly lacking – no ginger, no cloves, and a lot of other key spices missing. What I do have are some odd things – Chinese star anise, Spanish sweet paprika, saffron, and lavender flowers.

Anyway, the closest I came was cinnamon and cardamom. I added these to some rolled oats. I found a bag of Trader Joe’s candied pecans in my cupboard, and I chopped those up and tossed them in, too. Finally, in went agave nectar and a bit of canola oil. All it takes is mixing it all up and throwing in the oven for a half hour or so. I was going to add some chocolate chips after it came out of the oven and had cooled, but then I decided I should probably try to make the granola at least reasonably healthy. 🙂

It all turned out tasting so good, and the spices make me think of winter. Thus, I give you:

Winter Granola

3 cups rolled oats
half a package Trader Joe’s candied pecans, coarsely chopped (or about a cup of chopped regular pecans)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
6 tablespoons agave nectar (maple syrup would probably be good, too)

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then stir the oil and agave nectar in using a fork. Spread the granola over a large, lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 300 degrees, stirring every 10 minutes, until granola is lightly toasted – it won’t be crispy yet, but sitting out to cool will make it crisp up. The stirring every 10 minutes part is very important! You don’t want burned granola.