Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hungarian Shortbread

I think rhubarb has a bad reputation. People judge it by the way it looks. They think that it will taste like water and dirt and OK, it does look like red celery or the stalk of Swiss Chard, but when it's cooked correctly it is sooo good.

My first experience with rhubarb was when I made a Thanksgiving pie for my brother in law, Jon. He loves rhubarb pie because it reminds him of his grandmother in Minnesota. I had never really had rhubarb before and assumed I would hate it, but no; it's awesome. It does has a distinctive taste that I have a hard time describing. It's tart, has a bite to it (which can be overcome by reducing it in sugar). It reminds me of strawberries, yet has it's own distinctive flavor and smell. It's delish. I wouldn't make a 50 mile treck for something unless it was special.

Hungarian Shortbread is a shortbread that sandwiches a layer of homemade rhubarb jam. I had always thought of shortbread as those dry cookies with the sand like texture from the supermarket that come wrapped in plastic sleeves. Nope. This short bread is made with four sticks of butter, is mixed gently so that the flour stays tender, and literally melts when you eat it.

This time of year rhubarb is not in season. That's OK, because you can buy frozen packages of it at some stores and since you will be reducing it into jam, fresh rhubarb is not especially important.

The first step is the put 1lb of rhubarb in with 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 of water and 1/2 of a vanilla bean. If you don't like things tart, you can increase the sugar to 3/4 cup. Turn up the heat and let it boil until there is no liquid left. Make sure you stir it occassionally so that it does not burn on the bottom of the pan. I have very good luck making jams with my ceramic Le Creuset pots.

While the jam boils away, it's time to start on the dough. Take four sticks of softened butter and cream them with a mixer.

Once it is light yellow and fluffy, add in four egg yolks. I personally like to beat my egg yolks with a fork or whisk before putting them in.

Beat the butter and yolks together until bright yellow, and then add two cups of sugar and beat some more. You want a creamy soft, uniform texture. Now isn't that the most beautiful thing?

While the jam is boiling and the butter, eggs and sugar are beating, mix together 4 cups of flower, 2 tsp of baking powder and 1/4 tsp of salt. When the butter is ready, carefully pour in the dry ingredients.
Now this is very important-mix this as little as you can. Mixing flour causes gluten to form, which will make the shortbread tough. While this may be a good thing when making breads or brioche, you do not want this here. You want this to be impossibily tender.

Dump the dough onto your counter and smoosh it all together. Roll it into a ball, then take a
sharp knife and cut it in half. Next, wrap up each half and put them in the freezer for 30 minutes.

By now your rhubarb jam should be thick. Take it off the burner and allow to cool.

The next step is a little weird. Once your shortbread halves are cool, pull out your ceramic baking dish, a box grater and one of the balls of dough. I have no idea why the recipe calls for this, but I think it is to keep the shortbread from being to heavy and to keep it melting from the heat of your hands.

Grate the dough into the pan. Once it is all grated, smooth the shreds out across the pan, put do not press down. The warmth of my hands kept melting the butter in the dough, so I had to put it in the freezer a couple of times.

Next, spread the cooled rhubarb jam over the top.

And shred the second ball of dough over the top. Now you are ready for the over-cook at 350 for 40 minutes.
Once the top is golden brown, take it out of the oven and sprinkle the top with powdered sugar right away. Allow to cool....
Then slice up and devour.

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