Monday, December 14, 2009
I adore shortbread. Adore it. Like the rush of falling in love or the anticipation of place you long ago left, the thought of it lightens my whole day, and I involuntarily rub my index finger and thumb together in anticipation of its sandy crumbs. When I was a pastry cook, I'd talk my work-bruised feet into busying themselves just a bit longer, convincing them to stay in the kitchen while I baked the stuff. but listen, it's shortbread. you know how you love shortbread! Mine was made with blanched almonds, at once bold and delicate, really delicious.
I'm eating mostly raw these days, so I don't have cause to revisit the old recipe. But when Angela Stokes said a bit about her yumpot (don't worry if you pull a face on hearing the term; it's weird), and mentioned that it contains lucuma, and wistfully exhaled--in her very charming and otherwise sensible English accent--"It tastes like shortbread!" I knew I must do something wonderful with the lucuma in my cupboard.
Lucuma is a fruit native to Peru, prized for it's sweet smoothness and dry, dense texture. In English, it's known as eggfruit (named so for its intense yellow color, like a yolk) and tastes a lot like pumpkin. Fresh lucuma is scarce outside of South America, but markets in areas with large Latin American or Peruvian populations may stock its frozen pulp. The dried powder is frequently used to flavor ice creams and other desserts, especially in North America and Europe. I purchase organic powdered lucuma from The Raw Food World, but there are plenty of great sources for it.
This shortbread makes the most of lucuma's powdery nature, lending your cookies a texture that's so similar to baked shortbread, your guests won't guess it's raw.
Raw Almond Shortbread
12 thick or 24 thin cookies
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup raw almonds
1 1/4 cup dates
1/2 cup lucuma powder
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
additional lucuma powder, for dusting (optional)
Line a 4" x 9" baking pan with plastic wrap, allowing the excess to hang over the sides. This will give you very thick, substantial pieces of shortbread. For thinner cookies, use a 9" x 9" pan, or a 9" round pan, which creates nice wedges.
In a food processor, combine coconut and almonds, and process to the finest powder you can achieve before it turns into a paste. Add dates, lucuma powder, almond extract, and sea salt, and process again until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. It should appear quite sandy, but should hold together loosely when pressed between two fingers. If the dough is too sticky, add additional lucuma powder by the teaspoon until it reaches the proper consistency.
Press dough firmly into prepared pan, and level the top by patting with your fingers, smoothing with an offset spatula, or using the bottom of a glass. Prick the tops with the tines of a fork for an authentic shortbread look, if you like. Refrigerate until very firm, at least 20 minutes.
Using the plastic overhang, gently lift shortbread out of the pan, and place on a cutting surface. With a sharp knife, cut into rectangles; I like them 1" x 2" or so, or pie-shaped wedges about that size if using a round pan. For a perfect shortbread-y finish, dust the wedges with additional lucuma powder, moving them around to lightly coat every surface. The shortbread will keep, well-covered and refrigerated or at room temperature, for several weeks.
Serve the shortbread with steaming cups of tea and seasonal fruits, or include in your holiday cookie tin.
And news! This morning was the cover shoot for my upcoming book Cook, Eat, Live: Vegan Recipes from Everyday to Exotic. It was so much fun, and I'm thrilled that the finished book will be on shelves soon.
Tomorrow I'll be leaving on a massive road trip through Grand Junction, Las Vegas, and my hometown of Los Angleles, and returning to Denver through Phoenix, Sedona, Flagstaff, and Santa Fe. I love new adventures and side trip spontanaeity, so recommendations for stops are welcome! I'll certainly be spending lots of time at Ronald's Donuts, and my favorite Madeleine Bistro, and I can't wait to dine at Sedona's raw vegan Chocolatree...but things are always open to improvisation. Let's hear your favorites!