I like to improvise in savoury cooking. A common dinner menu in our house is “[insert ingredient] surprise”. But in baking, I am a stickler for rules and always stay faithful to the recipes’ main ingredients and dry/wet ratio.
Until Friday night.
I started to make cookies for friends who were visiting on the weekend, only to realise we had run out of eggs.
On the spur of the moment, I improvised wildly. Into the mixing bowl went honey, polenta and quinoa flour, as well as plain flour and butter. Crushed lavender flowers were folded into half of the cookie dough (this post on Food and Forage Hebrides recently reminded me that I have wanted to bake with lavender for a while). Finely chopped rosemary leaves went into the other half.
Voila “honey surprise” cookies – or, the shortbread cookie re-imagined.
The lush buttery butter now forms the backdrop to a more complex set of flavours. Quinoa and polenta added a full bodied whole grain taste. Honey left its lingering sweetness in the back of the mouth. For the lavender cookies, the flower buds also gave a clean, herbal-floral scent and taste. Each bite was like a spring morning on a country homestead.
I am going through a pro-rosemary phase, and was generous with the chopped rosemary. As a result, these cookies had a stronger savoury note than the lavender ones, which balanced the cookies’ sweetness.
Despite their unassuming looks, these cookies have character.
The addition of honey gave the cookies a denser texture, which makes them less like a classic shortbread and bit more like a brown sugar cookie or classic mod-Oz honey snap biscuits. At 11-12 minutes, when the edges of the cookies were just starting to show a light brown, the texture was crumbly and only slightly chewy. After 13-15 minutes, the cookies became lightly browned all over, with a snappier bite.
Baking notes: The cookies were slices cut from a log of dough. As it was the end of the week, my slicing was less than meticulous, and the thickness of the cookies varied between (approximately) 4mm and 7mm. The thinner cookies browned a little more quickly than the thicker ones, but they all turned out well with no burning or under-cooking. The cookies were very soft and fragile just out of the oven, but within a minute or two, they firmed up enough to be moved onto cooling racks.
Honey browns more quickly, and the cookies browned nicely in a moderate oven.
The recipe for “honey surprise” cookies can be fine-tuned further, I’m already thinking of ramping up the lavender flavour, maybe reducing the sugar for a healthier snack, even making them gluten free for GF friends and colleagues. In the meantime, here is the beta version.
Honey, lavender (or rosemary) cookies
This is, to mis-quote Deb of Smitten Kitchen, adapted so wildly from shortbread cookie recipes they no longer recognise each other.
David Lebovitz’s polenta shortbread cookies provided crucial guidance – you can find it in his excellent book, Ready for Dessert, or on Epicurious.
210 g (1.5 US cups) plain or all-purpose flour
70 g (1/2 US cup) quinoa flour
40 g (just over 1/4 US cup) polenta
big pinch (approx 1/2 tsp) sea salt
230 g (approx 8 ounces) butter
100 g sugar
3/4 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp dried lavender flowers, crushed in a mortar and pestle
1. Mix together the flours, polenta, and sea salt.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is smooth (rather than pale and fluffy). Add honey and stir until just mixed together. Add the flour, polenta and salt, and mix just until the dough just starts to come together. (You can do the mixing either in a kitchen mixer or by hand.)
3. Cut the dough in half. Mix the rosemary leaves into one half of the dough, and the lavender flowers into the other half of the dough. (I did this by hand on a floured kitchen bench, otherwise I would have had to clean out the kitchen mixer bowl for each half of the cookie dough.)
4. Shape each lump of dough into a thick log. The diameter of the log will be the size of your cookies, so make sure it’s a decent size. (David Lebovitz recommends rolling the log to 6 inches (15 cm) long and 1 3/4 inches (4 cm) in diameter.) Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until they are very firm. The dough can be kept in the fridge overnight.
5. Preheat the oven to 150°C (approx 300°F).
6. Slice one logs into cookies approximately 5 mm thick, and place them on a lined baking tray, leaving some space between them (approximately 1 cm apart, which is less than 1/4 inch).
7. Bake for 12 minutes for softer and crumblier cookies, or for up to 15 minutes for slightly crispier cookies. I found the bottom browned quicker than the top. Remove from oven, let them cool for a couple of minutes before moving them.
Eat them: standing in the kitchen while they are warm, and with tea the next day. I just had one with a strong cup of tea – they are still good after two days.