A Shortbread for Sharing

It’s mid-May 2021 and as the mask mandates are slowly being lifted, it’s time to begin looking forward to gathering again with family and friends. After more than a year of longing for dinners out, is it odd that the prospect of entertaining at home again feels strangely comforting and necessary? I’ve certainly had my fill of grocery store drama and washing dishes, how about you? Yet, as much as I long for the pleasures of sitting down to a delicious meal that more talented hands have prepared, which involves absolutely no cleanup at the end on my part(!), the intimacy of my own dining room feels more relaxed. It’s also sorely in need of the injection of energy that comes from the missing laughter and long conversations.

While cooking and entertaining have made up a large part of my social life for as long as I can remember, this past year of lock down and isolation has greatly improved my ability to create entertainment-worthy meals that take much less work and planning. It gave me plenty of motivation to explore all the condiments, spices, pastes and techniques that could make home cooking feel more like exploration than drudgery. A tall order, since most days felt much more exhausting than usual! The emotional toll we all experienced, I’m sure.

So, even with my newly expanded dinner repertoire, I won’t be going for the show stoppers out of the gate. I’d rather make the hugs a little longer and the conversations a little deeper, which means being present and not tied to the stove. This large scale shortbread recipe is just the thing for lingering at the table and leaning in a little closer. It’s also extremely versatile and can take you from a simple finish to pretty fancy if you’d like. In the past, I have served it alongside a very composed, layered panna cotta, a warm fruit sabayon, and delicate pots de creme in gilded cups. It’s equally at home completely on its own or with large bowls and pints of your favorite ice cream or a platter of seasonal fresh fruit.

Choose your Grist & Toll flour here. The softer white wheat varieties are my standards: Sonora, Chiddam Blanc de Mars, Wit Wolkoring, but darker wheats with their nutty sweetness are definitely contenders if a few bars of chocolate, nuts and a digestif are on hand for the evening’s finale.

The official name for this shortbread is Broyé du Poitou, as its origin is the Poitou-Charentes region in France. You can find recipes online by searching for the French name, or for Break Apart cookies or Dorie Greenspan’s Salted Butter Break-Ups. Any will work with whole grain flour instead of All Purpose, but I prefer a version like the one below with egg. Salted butter would be a little more authentic, so feel free to play around. If so, I would then decrease the salt in the recipe by at least half, however, a kick of salt is expected and part of the charm so don’t be afraid of it. You are using really great flour, make sure you partner it with the highest quality butter you can find. They are the stars here.

Recipe: Whole Grain Broyé du Poitou

1 3/4 C G&T whole grain flour, such as Sonora
2/3 C sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
10 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
1 large egg
2 Tbsp cold water
1 egg yolk for glaze, optional

You will need a baking sheet and parchment liner. The recipe calls for a food processor, but you can certainly make this by hand, just treat it as you would a recipe for pie dough.
1. In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar and salt to blend.
2. Add cold butter cubes and give it 4 good pulses.
3. Whisk together egg and water. Feed through the food processor’s feed tube while pulsing just to the point of the dough coming together. It should look like heavy, moist crumbs, but not have formed a cohesive mass. If you pinch some dough it should hold together but should not be sticky. *based on the G&T flour you have chosen, it’s possible you may need 1-2 Tbsp additional cold water.
4. Turn out onto your work surface and bring the dough together. Shape into a rectangle, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least one hour.
5. Preheat oven to 325F. Roll out dough on a lightly floured piece of parchment into a rectangular shape, about 1/4″ thick and somewhere in the realm of 12″ by 10″. A less than perfectly uniform shape is homey and charming here, so don’t break out the ruler! Transfer your cookie on its parchment to a baking sheet. If using the egg yolk (highly recommended for that glossy finish), whisk it with a few drops of water then brush over the entire surface of the cookie. Use the back of a fork to create a cross-hatch pattern – don’t push too hard and cut through the cookie.
6. Bake until the center of the cookie is set and the outer edges are nicely golden, about 25 minutes. Go by sight and touch rather than time.
7. Allow the cookie to cool, then either transfer to a serving platter or do as I do most often – just slide the parchment and cookie right onto the center of the table and let guests break off as much as they’d like. Everyone will have a preference: crunchy outer edges or soft center. It’s all delicious, bon appetit!

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