29 September 2009

A Study in Lemon and Poppy Seed

I know things have gotten a little preachy here recently, but anyone who loves food needs to read all eight pages of this Michael Pollan article. (And I do believe he himself falls a bit into the food-celebrity trap- maybe not for being flashy, but for the rabid dedication he inspires in his devotees. Is it possible I can continue to distrust people just because they're popular?)

It's a keen portrayal of the sad state of cooking in America today, how we're spending less time preparing food and more passively watching others do so. There is one quote that really struck me, from Sartre-charmer Simone de Beauvoir, talking about elevating the art of baking as a “revelation and creation; and a woman can find special satisfaction in a successful cake or a flaky pastry, for not everyone can do it: one must have the gift.”

Beauvoir wrote this in The Second Sex in 1949, but 60 years later, I'm still attempting it, almost every day, in my little dishwasherless city kitchen. Most recently, creativity was inspired by these lemon-poppy seed shortbread cookies from the lovely Lottie + Doof blog.

As I've said before, shortbread is an ideal vehicle for showcasing flavors, and these simple little cookies do so like champs. I used white whole-wheat flour to add a deeper, nutty flavor, and to pretend that they're actually good for you.

Lemon-Poppy Seed Shortbread
adapted from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups white whole-wheat flour, sifted
1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until creamy and smooth, about two minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla and beat well.

2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, poppy seeds and salt. Add dry mixture to butter mixture and beat until combined. Form the dough into a disk, wrap and chill for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.

3. Heat oven to 300°. Roll the dough between two sheets of wax paper to a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle. Return dough to refrigerator for 30 minutes. Cut shortbread into squares or use desired shape cookie cutter, and place 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. (Do not reroll scraps, if using cookie cutter.) Prick shortbread with a fork and bake until pale golden all over, 23 to 25 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Well, they're good for your spirit, at least. And if you have them with a quiet green bowl of matcha, they're practically healthy.