“Dangerous” and “addictive” are two qualities I look for in a baked good. “Deceptive” features highly in there as well, especially on those occasions when I’m in the hands of a pastry chef who can turn a ho-hum ingredient into something confoundingly sumptuous.
Today’s recipe for Arabic Shortbread – buttery little discs with hint of cardamom and a crowning pine nut – falls into the two former categories.
The danger lies in its shocking ease to prepare. Cream the butter and sugar until very pale, add the remaining ingredients, chill 30 minutes while you do other things, then squish into little discs and bake. The most difficult part – and it is not difficult – is to handle the dough gently, to keep it light and crumbly when baked.
As for the addictiveness… you’ll find out soon enough.
Makes 6 dozen but easily halved or divided in thirds; adapted slightly from Suzanne Husseini
1 cup butter, chilled
3/4 cup powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
Pine nuts, to garnish
Optional but recommended: 1 tsp vanilla, 1 pinch cardamom
In a stand mixer, or in a medium-sized bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale and smooth, about 10 minutes (if you are halving the quantity, cream for 5-6 minutes or until very pale).
On low speed, beat in the vanilla. Sift in the flour and pinch of cardamom, beating in slowly until just combined.
Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170C / 325F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper while the dough rests.
Form the dough into balls, a little larger than a marble. Place on the cookie sheet, flatten gently with your fingertips, and press a pine nut in the middle. Continue until all the dough is used.
Bake 10 minutes until the cookies are just set, but not browned — the goal is to maintain their ivory color. Let cool completely on the tray or on a wire rack before serving.