Basil shortbread with lemon curd
Sometimes I like to pretend that I’m a real, independent adult, with, you know, an apartment and a job and even a cat. But in reality, my first call when I have news (good or bad), need advice, or want to make that really yummy dish we ate that one time is my mom. She’s the one who handles the nerve-wracking excitement of a new job and offers comfort when that job drives me to tears. I’m pretty sure she’s no longer surprised when I call with the latest laundry dilemma–I’m definitely my father’s daughter.
She may live halfway across the country and she may sometimes neglect her cell phone, but I have never doubted that she is there for me, no matter what. I’m so grateful for all that she brings to my life. From flying across the country to buy me groceries when I had surgery to just making me laugh, my mom always knows just what to do.
I wish I could be home with you to celebrate this Mother’s Day, but for now I’ll just have to send these cookies. They’re buttery and lemony with a burst of freshness from the basil, and they make me think of you. So happy Mother’s Day, mom. I love you.
And my mom knows me well enough to know that we can’t skimp on the science just because we’re celebrating the amazing women in our lives. So a quick note on shortbread and, yes, gluten. It’s back!
In my other shortbread recipe on this site, we talked about how the crumbly texture of the best shortbread comes from minimizing gluten development. One of the reasons that works is the almost complete lack of water in the cookies–the only moisture comes from the butter, which is over 80% fat. But to get the basil flavor throughout the cookies, I wanted to use a basil-infused simple syrup. It may make them way more delicious, but if we’re not careful the extra water could seriously compromise that essential crumble.
What’s an herb-loving cookie-baker to do?
Here, we use the reverse creaming method to prevent too much gluten development when we add the simple syrup. The theory is simple: we mix all the dry ingredients, then beat in small pieces of cold butter. The fat coats the gluten proteins, sealing them in and preventing them from going all crazy when we add the simple syrup at the end. Up the flour just a touch and add a quick cool-down in the fridge before baking to firm up the dough and we get a melt-in-your-mouth cookie that also delivers the perfect touch of basil.
Basil shortbread with lemon curd
We start with rich, buttery shortbread and dress it up with fresh basil and tangy lemon curd. Put it all together for a delicious sandwich cookie fit for a queen! And your mom, of course. You can either shape the dough into a log for easy slice-and-bake rounds or roll it out and use cookie cutters for more variety.
Yield: about 30 sandwiches
Basil simple syrup
½ c. sugar
¼ c. water
½ c. basil leaves, tightly packed (about 3 sprigs)
Basil shortbread cookies
1 ¼ c. flour
4 t. cornstarch
¼ c. powdered sugar
¼ t. salt
½ c. (one stick) butter, cold
¼ c. basil simple syrup
4 basil leaves
3 egg yolks
¾ c. sugar
3 T. butter
¼ t. salt
Make the basil simple syrup: combine the sugar, water, and basil leaves in a small pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Remove leaves before using. Store any extra in the fridge.
Make the shortbread: preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Cut the butter into thin slices, about 1/8″ thick.
Chiffonade the basil leaves: stack them so that the stems align, roll them into a cylinder, and cut very finely with the sharpest knife you have. This will give you long “threads” of basil. Separate the strands and give the pile a few rough chops to give you shorter threads.
Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the slices of butter and mix on medium speed until the dough comes together. Add the simple syrup and the basil pieces and mix just until combined.
To make slice-and-bake rounds: roll the dough into a log and wrap in parchment paper. Chill until firm, about an hour in the fridge and 20 minutes in the freezer. Cut the log into 1/8″ slices.
To roll out cookies: cool dough in the fridge for half an hour. Roll it out on a well-floured surface to 1/8″ thick and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Re-roll the scraps and cut again.
Bake the cookies on an ungreased cookie tray for 20-22 minutes, until they feel firm to the touch. They will not brown.
Make the lemon curd: zest 1 ½ lemons into a bowl. Juice all three lemons into the same bowl and let sit to soften the zest.
Prepare a double boiler: fill a pot with about two inches of water and heat until boiling, then turn it down to a simmer. Choose a heat-safe (glass or metal) bowl that can sit comfortable on top of this pot.
In your bowl, mix the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar. Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Place on top of the pot of water and whisk frequently until it thickens, about 15-20 minutes. As it starts to thicken, stir more often and make sure you scrape the bottom. When it is thick enough to hold its shape for a few seconds when you pull out the whisk, add the butter and salt. Remove from heat, cover with plastic wrap (press it directly onto the surface so that it doesn’t form a skin), and cool in the fridge.
Assemble the sandwiches: once both are cool, spoon a small amount of lemon curd onto a cookie. Top with another cookie and press gently so that the filling comes to the edge. Give to someone you love!
Recipes adapted from The Science of Good Cooking from America’s Test Kitchen and Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.