I don’t have a sweet tooth, yet in the past few days I’ve baked a cake and some cookies and all in the name of history.
First I bake a ‘turcolo’, which is a traditional Umbrian cake, and while I’ve made a number of them in Umbria, this was my first US version and it needs some tweaking before I can give you the recipe. The flour isn’t acting the same, and using baking powder instead of Pane Angeli didn’t quite seem to do the trick. The beauty of this simple peasant cake is just that: it’s a simple flavor. After a meal of complex flavors, it lets your mouth relax with something vaguely sweet and supremely comforting.
Next up: shortbread cookies. This is also a simple cookie, with a long history, perhaps dating back to 12th century medieval Scotland and ‘biscuit bread’. Biscuit bread was made from left over bits of bread dough that was then baked and dried into hard rusks. The rusks could be conveniently carried out to the field in a rucksack and eaten at any time (presumably after dunking in something, or that would explain the lack of people with teeth in medieval Scotland). Over time, butter crept into the recipe, yeast was left behind and luxurious milled white sugar was added.
The traditional ratio is 3-2-1, flour-butter-sugar, with a pinch of salt.
I’m of the opinion that before I make a hazelnut chocolate shortbread cookie, I should master the art of a simple, classic shortbread cookie. It’s like the Vanilla Ice Cream Test, if the vanilla ice cream is good, then you can rest easy that good care was taken with everything else. So, I set out to make shortbread cookies, and while the appearance isn’t there yet, they are certainly addicting. I want to make another batch this time lowering the oven temp even more (this batch was baked at 325F) and letting the butter soften more before I bake.
There is something soothing and right about mastering the classics before moving on.