The substitution of brown sugar for regular sugar gives these cookies an extra layer of depth, a kind of subtle scent and sweetness that enhances the extra crunch created by the addition of ground nuts. Mmm... crumbly, buttery, delicious shortbread with layers of underlying flavor. Can you tell I'm slightly in love with this recipe? Not only did I include it in my gift boxes this holiday season, I've made it several times after and I've bored my friends to tears by waxing poetic about the sheer genius of this cookie. Unfortunately, I have a feeling they only listened to me because I kept up a constant supply of shortbread! :)
Brown Sugar Almond Shortbread
Adapted slightly from Baking, Dorie Greenspan
*A few notes: (1) The original recipe called for ground pecans, but as I had none at the time, I substituted ground almonds instead - it worked really well, but I'm dying to make these with pecans; and (2) The recipe calls for an 18-20 minute baking time - I found that this was way too long and the cookies browned too much and lost flavor. I baked mine for about 12-13 minutes, just until crunchy and pale golden.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt and cloves.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the dough. Don’t work the dough much once the flour is incorporated. Add the almond and give the mixer a couple of turns, just to get the nuts into the dough.
Using a rubber spatula, transfer the soft, sticky dough to a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, leaving the top open, and roll the dough into a 9×10-1/2-inch rectangle that’s 1/4-inch thick. As you roll, turn the bag occasionally and lift the plastic from the dough so it doesn’t cause creases. When you get the right size and thickness, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours, or for up to 2 days.
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets wiht parchment or silicone mats.
Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open. Turn the firm dough out onto the board (discard the bag) and, using a ruler as a guide and a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1-1/2 inch squares. Transfer the squares to the baking sheets and carefully prick each one twice with a fork, gently pushing the tines through the cookies until they hit the sheet. [I would also freeze each sheet for about 15 minutes before baking to stop the cookies from spreading. I did that with mine and they hardly spread].
Bake for 18-20 minutes [my time was 12-13 minutes], rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. The shortbreads will be very pale – they shouldn’t take on much color. Transfer the cookies to a rack.
If you’d like, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while they are still hot. Cool the cookies to room temperature before serving.
Yield: 32 cookies