There came this moment, the Sunday following Thanksgiving, when I wondered what on earth I was thinking. I was carrying the last of five laundry baskets from the depths, immensely looking forward to the bed I was about to fall into, when I rounded the corner to the kitchen and came face to face with ... (insert doom sounds) ... the turkey stock.
A giant vat. Two, actually. Sitting on the stove. Waiting to be strained.
The moment was right around midnight. Of course.
The grinding return to school, the next day. Really, in around six hours.
Why, oh why?
Why don't I just chuck the remains? Buy boxed broth? Get on it, say, Saturday?
Even Sunday, 6 PM, would've worked.
(Twitterpated doesn't even come close.)
Bedtime that "night" was around one a.m., by the time I'd plucked tender meat from the wreckage, strained out tired onions, removed a thousand bones. I noted, through my grumbling and kvetching, that the yield was an impressive ten gallons. Ten gallons of rich intense gold elixir. Messy, sticky, gloppy gold elixir, I thought, as I hauled my (harrumph) haul down the (blasted) basement steps. (I had a head start on Scrooge, this Christmas.)
There was a moment, today, actually, when I found the because to my "Why?". It was lunchtime, and there I sat slurping my umpteenth bowl of soup with one kiddo. (Today is Monday. First day back after break. Pop quiz: what's wrong with this picture?) There was another, identical moment, two weeks back. Another, a week earlier. Another, the week prior. In fact, every time I lifted another stock block from the deep freeze, to make yet another pot of turkey soup, for yet another sick little/big, I felt better about Broth Night. We didn't eat soup every night, this past month. But more nights than not. By a long shot.
I tucked ten gallons of liquid gold away, that Sunday. There is only one left.
We will not dwell on the colds on repeat or the bronchitis or prescription-filled kitchen sill. Nor on all the good that flowed, easy and abundant. Not to mention the Seattle (!!) sojourn. Let's just say, it was a full month. The sort of full that makes a soul feel that four letters are deeply inadequate. That 'full' ought to have at least ten letters. Possibly fourteen. Probably ninety-two.
Hello!!!! Happy Channukah/Christmas/New Year! So happy to surface. It's lovely, up here.
Somewhere in there, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, you'd thought that we'd stayed away because, good golly, we'd run out of cookies. I mean, really. We've packed every December full of the things for five years, now. Gingerbread shorties and drei augen and pecan bars and almond stars and cardamom acorns and buttered rum biscuits and buckeyes and almond roca bars and butterscotch reindeer. For example.
Or maybe, that we didn't bake much, this season? Forgot? Lost interest? Exceeded lifetime quotas?
We managed a few. And so aren't out of ideas. To wit: I meant to talk chocolate hazelnut sablés and crisp rye clouds and mace shortbread and cocoa nib rugelach and chocolate teff coins and wedding cakes and and and... Well. More for next Christmas.
Until then, I'll leave you with two items I so loved, this last Christmas. First, a list I found laying around, dateline: early December, author: Zoë. In her excellent, verbatim, (sic) first grade words:
"What you need to make the best christmas tree
Just plain Christmas
a nut cracker
and a piano
lots and lots and lots of ornamints
four sets of christmas tree lights
lodes and lodes and lodes of cookies"
Indeed. She knows us well.
Item two is the suprise sleeper cookie that blew me away, knocked my socks off, and made my short list. Unexpectedly. Given the general tenor of the month, and the new-to-me ingredients, and my iffy track record, I honestly expected these nutmeg shortbreads were on the fast track to requisite fail territory.
Predictions aren't my strong suit.
These masterful beauties hail from Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours. And while I don't expect that any sane soul is doing any cookie baking, right now, I would recommend this title for anyone. Anytime. Unequivocally. It's a gem.
Like all Medrich's books, this latest is meticulously curated, expertly tested, and uniformly delicious. (And no, this is no paid promotion. Just little old opinionated me.) Unlike all Medrich's books, as you've likely heard, this latest contains only wheat-free flours. It's an eye-opening, glorious romp through the world of alt-flours, from teff to chestnut, undertaken not expressly to be gluten-free, but "to answer the question, 'What if wheat never existed?'". Or so says Medrich.
I say its goal is to get jiggy with the glory and mystery and untapped potential all those other flours have to offer. It's not the first book to take such a tack (Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain comes to mind), but it is a grand one. One of the best. Exhibit A: Nutmeg Sorghum Shortbread.
(Exhibit B: Double Chocolate Teff Twinkles. Exhibit C: Salted Peanut Shorties. Exhibit D: Buckwheat Sa... oh, you get the picture. And these are only those I've tested and adored. Which, for the record, is a 1:1 ratio. Pretty much unheard of.)
Back to that nutmeg shortbread. After tracking down some sorghum flour (which sounds weird and awful, but is the opposite, wild and wonderful), I whipped up a batch, one morning, as much out of curiosity as anything. I had no idea what to expect.
Not true. See above. I expected disaster. I expected sub-par. I expected almost. I expected okay, and compromise, and kinda-sorta.
Every so often, I love being wrong.
This was one of those times.
Fast-forward a few hours, and what left my oven was one of the lightest, most crisp, most ethereal cookies I've ever finagled. And I am no slouch in the cookie-finagling department. I know as much about sorghum as you do—Seed? Grain? Petroleum byproduct?—but I do now know this: sorghum, cut with a bit of rice flour, blended with butter and laced with fresh nutmeg, bakes up into something I didn't know possible.
The end effect is not unlike those crisp winter days when the air is cold and bright on the skin and crisp in the nose and so brittle, it almost breaks for the looking. Fragile. Delicate. Exquisite. Yes, that's it. Exquisite.
They're like eating clouds, but not meringue clouds, which tend toward sticky-sweet and hard-crisp. These nutmeg shortbreads are melting-crisp, barely-there crisp, buttered-porcelain crisp. Sandy, if sand were whisper-thin, crisp. And tasting of nutmeg. Oh, that nutmeg. Warming and welcome, nutmeg's a spice that so deserves its own spotlight. It shines here. A keeper for the recipe box, and the ages.
Fullfullfull. What a month.
But full of such goodness. Lodes and lodes.
Nutmeg Shortbread (Gluten-Free)
adapted from Alice Medrich's Flavor Flours
Bob's Red Mill makes a lovely sorghum flour, that runs a reasonable $4/bag. Try your local well-stocked grocery or health food store. Also available on Amazon, but at twice the price. White rice flour is widely available. Beyond my doubling of the nutmeg and use of salted butter, the only change I made to Medrich's stellar recipe is in the rolling. Medrich's original called for 1/2" thick squares, cross-hatched directly from the dough sheet. I rolled mine to 1/4", and used cookie cutters, to great effect. The only downside was their fragility; in future, I'll repeat the cookie cutter method, but roll to 3/8", as outlined below.
Please note: Dough must chill 2 hours before cutting. You will need several sheets of parchment, or waxed paper, for rolling dough. Finally, if you're new to gluten-free baking, do note the technique. Rolling between parchment is essential. Novel, maybe, but not difficult, and pretty addictive, once you get going.
1 cup + 2 Tbs. sorghum flour
1/3 cup + 1 Tbs. white rice flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
generous 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
12 Tbs. salted butter, slightly softened, sliced
1/4 cup cream cheese, slightly softened, cubed
1 Tbs. water
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add sorghum flour, rice flour, sugar, nutmeg and salt. Whisk to combine. Add butter and cream cheese chunks, water, and vanilla, then fit mixer with paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until a soft, smooth dough forms.
Have two lengths of parchment or waxed paper ready. Place one length on a cookie sheet, tip dough onto paper, then press dough into a rough 8 x 10" rectangle, 1/2" thick. Cover dough with second sheet of paper, and roll gently, from center outward, rotating dough 90 degrees between each roll, until dough is approximately 3/8" thick. This is a matter of just a few rolls. Freeze 2 hours, or up to 3 days.
Place oven racks in two middle positions. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
Remove dough from freezer, and from baking sheet, and place on a ready work surface. Have a few additional fresh sheets of parchment/wax paper ready. Prepare dough for cutting: peel off top paper, then set back on dough. Flip dough so that the now-loose paper side is down, and peel off second paper. Set second aside. Cut cookies from cold dough, working efficiently to minimize scraps. Transfer cut-outs to prepared sheet. (Dough is wonderfully easy to cut and transfer while cold and firm; if you find the dough softening, around the 15 minute mark, briefly return to the freezer.)
Gather scraps, press together, and place on fresh parchment, covering, pressing, and rolling to 3/8", as before. Place in freezer to chill 15 minutes, or until firm. Repeat cutting and chilling, until all dough has been used. Medrich sprinkles her cookies with a mix of 1 Tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. I opted for gold sanding sugar, sprinkled over the raw dough.
Place in preheated oven, and bake for 25 minutes, or until edges brown slightly. This bake time was spot-on for my 2" cutters, but note that time will vary based on cutter size. Use your nose and eyes. When cookies are heady and golden, remove from oven, cool on pan 15 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks.
Like all shortbread, these keep beautifully, airtight, at least 3 weeks.