Lemony Almond Shortbread With Hibiscus Glaze

Spring, Sweet Recipes • 8 Apr 2014

My son and I recently started taking an outdoor forest school class together, our first mommy and me class in almost a year. The announcement that it would commence outdoors, in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, in the middle of an early spring cold snap was met with a cascade of boisterous stomps, melodramatic head rolls and clamorous words questioning my sanity.

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“But why, mommy, WHY? Our fingers will fall off from the cold and our ears will stop working and I won’t be able to walk and will have to sleep in the park forever.” In truth, it was a hyperbolically bitter, finger-numbing day and I could not imagine braving the chills for an hour and a half.

We arrived at our forest school, clad overzealously in puffy winter armor, and in spite of the weather, managed to love every free-spirited moment of digging, worm hunting and mud sculpture building. We flew “kites” constructed from twigs and billowy satin scarves and we feasted on warm honey-oat bread and hot hibiscus tea served in diminutive porcelain cups, all while surrounded by the park’s almost tangible woodland energy. My son gripped his cup tightly and possessively, as if fearful the cold, sinister air might kick up and forcefully steal his steamy magenta liquid. We sat in tandem on a log, relishing the warm slurps, thawing currents trickling down our throats, each sip warming us from within.

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After class the complaints about the weather vanished and were replaced by “go shopping now, mommy, and buy me a boat of hibiscus tea. I want to drink it all the time. I want to eat it. I want to live on a hibiscus tea boat.”

Since our first class, we’ve been consuming the crimson tea daily, obsessively, almost ritualistically, steeping the flowers until they release a tart, slightly- bitter, almost cranberry flavor. With some of the dried hibiscus flowers I made a bright, bubble gum pink glaze for almond lemon shortbread cookies, another one of our ceremonial snacks.

For me, the key to buttery, flaky shortbread is in the handiwork. I use fatty, silken local butter, left on the counter until it warms and softens and becomes pliably putty-like. I mash it gently with a fork and sprinkle it with snowy confectioners’ sugar. Confectioners’ sugar breaks down more easily than granulated sugar, giving way to a tender, soft, refined shortbread. Using granulated sugar yields a heartier, denser, coarser cookie.

Add lemon zest and flavor extract (vanilla or almond) after the sugar, which serve to enhance the butteriness and mollify the sweetness. The intoxicating aromas of oily lemon and sweetly nutty almond unfurl, leaving you powerless, unable to control your unwieldy fingers as they sneakily reach into the bowl for a sly taste (or two). Be sensible, however, and add the flour before you’ve consumed half the butter in the raw. Shortbread is worth the wait, in spite of the seductive power of sugary butter.

The addition of the flour will create a flaky mess so carefully knead the dough, by hand, until smooth and slightly sticky. Wrap in the refrigerator and chill for about an hour and then bake until the edges are slightly golden, the middles buttery yellow.

The hibiscus glaze atop each biscuit contributes to the melt-in-your-mouth texture, the tartness of the wispy dried flowers a perfect marriage with the sharp lemon zest.

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We stood by the counter, gobbling cookie after cookie, at once comforting and slightly naughty, given the breakdown of ingredients. I love the pureness of shortbread-tasting all the ingredients in mellifluous harmony; that first bite- a delicate crunch, then a crackle and a smooth, buttery finish.

At first there was resistance from my son: “Hibiscus is red, mommy, why are these cookies covered in pink stuff? I want hibiscus, not pink stuff.” It took a bit of convincing, on my behalf, that when red melds with white, we get pink; and that the frosting was indeed made from his beloved flowers. Eventually he caved, unable to resist the power of hibiscus, and buttery shortbread.

Lemony Almond Shortbread With Hibiscus Glaze

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons lightly crushed dried hibiscus flowers
1/3 cup boiling water
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Add lemon zest and almond extract and mix well. Stir in salt and flour, by hand, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is crumbly. Pour out dough onto a clean counter top and knead until the dough is smooth. Cut the dough in half and roll into 2 1-inch thick discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

3. Roll out half the dough onto a lightly floured surface until about 1/4-inch thick. If the dough is sticking to your rolling pin, sprinkle with a light dusting of flour. If the dough cracks, it is too cold. Wait a few minutes before attempting to roll it out again.

4. Cut into rounds using a 2-inch round cookie cutter. Place on baking sheet with 1-inch between each cookie and bake for 15-20 minutes, on the middle rack, until the edges are just slightly golden and the middle still pale yellow.

5. Repeat process with remaining cookie dough. Dough scraps can be refrigerated and rerolled for more cookies.

6. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet and drizzle with hibiscus sugar glaze.

7. To make the glaze, place dried hibiscus in a mug and pour 1/3 cup boiling water over the flowers. Steep for 20 minutes and strain. In a medium bowl mix together confectioners’ sugar and 2 tablespoons hibiscus water. Discard remaining infused water. Immediately drizzle glaze over cookies and serve. Cookies will keep for about 5 days in an airtight container.

Yield: About 40 cookies.

2 Responses

  1. these look so delicious!

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