Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Hungarian Shortbread

The latest Tuesdays with Dorie - Baking with Julia recipe is Hungarian Shortbread.  The recipe can be found on pages 327-328 of the book or here and here, the blogs of the two hosts for this recipe!

The shortbread is filled with a rhubarb jam, which made me excited as I have never cooked rhubarb before this instance!  I have eaten it before, but never out of my own kitchen!  So I was eager to learn more about rhubarb.

My wikipedia research lead to a few interesting tidbits:
  • Rhubarb is generally considered to be a vegetable, however in 1947 a court in New York decided that since we use it in the U.S. as if it were a fruit, we would consider it a fruit.  The benefit of this declaration is that vegetables have higher tariffs, so the importation of rhubarb became less expensive.  Interesting how we can decide in a court that a vegetable is a fruit for our own benefit.  Hmmm.  I won't go any further with that.  It just makes my brain go off in all kinds of directions!
  • Rhubarb can be used as a laxative.  Yikes.  We certainly don't want to put too much in our shortbread!  That is not an effect I generally want from my baked goods!
  • This is sort of random, but rhubarb contains tannins, and Chinese medicine uses rhubarb not only for the laxative effect but also because tannins reduce colon inflammation.  Since red wine also has tannins, shouldn't that be just another reason why red wine is good for us??
That is enough talk about laxatives and colons.  I hope this never comes up in a blog post again.  Ugh.

On to the jam.

The ingredients are pretty basic.  Rhubarb, water, sugar and a vanilla bean.   I used a Tahitian vanilla bean, which is rare but get this - my husband got some for me as an anniversary gift one year in reminiscence of our honeymoon in Tahiti!  Ahhh, bliss.  Before I get swept away in memories, lets move on!

You put all of those ingredients into a saucepan and cook it over low heat until the rhubarb softens.  It gets sort of weird looking at that point.  It sort of melts, sort of becomes a bit slimy...  But it tasted good!  I am not used to Tahitian vanilla and it definitely has a different taste than my regular vanilla.  Different-good, though.

Anyway once the rhubarb mixture looks more jam-like, let it cool and remove the vanilla bean.  For goodness sakes, don't throw it away!   Rinse that beauty off and let it dry.  Then bury it in a bowl of sugar.  Voila, vanilla sugar.  Mmmmm.

The actual shortbread is where this recipe gets exciting.

First you whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Yes, I know.  Not exciting.  Just wait!

Put your butter in the mixer and beat them until they are light and fluffy.  You might notice that my butter sticks look short and squatty.  They are.  I get them from Costco and for whatever reason, that is the shape they chose.  It is good butter though!

Patience, the exciting part will get here, I promise!

Beat egg yolks and sugar to the butter.  I had to photograph these beautiful eggs.  A woman from my church brought FRESH EGGS in for the taking so you know who grabbed some!  Yep, ME!!  There is nothing like fresh eggs.  They are so pretty, and so many different sizes!  Some looked like little mini-eggs!  I picked out what I considered to be 4 large eggs for this recipe.  Beautiful!

(This isn't the exciting part, though I do find fresh eggs to be kind of exciting.)

 Once the eggs and sugar are mixed in, add the flour mixture until just mixed together.

My personal taster tested the dough and found it to be "yummo". 

Now we are getting somewhere.  Take the dough out of the mixer, split into halves, and PUT EACH HALF IN THE FREEZER.  Ok, that isn't super interesting, but just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait!

After about 30 minutes (I waited about 45), take a ball of dough out of the freezer and GRATE it into the pan with a CHEESE GRATER.  Seriously.  Have you ever done this in a recipe before??  I hadn't!  Yippee!  Fun!  Apparently, shortbread dough generally is a bit of a pain and gets your fingers all sticky as you get it into the pan.  By grating the dough into the pan you avoid the sticky fingers situation and get a lighter dough.  I personally don't usually find "sticky fingers" to be a problem but I love the idea for getting a lighter, airier dough.

Though the recipe does NOT call for par-baking this first layer, several reviews of the recipe suggested doing so.  I baked this first layer for 10 minutes, though I could have gone longer I think.  It didn't get browned at all so I think another 5 minutes would have been fine.

Then spread the jam over the dough and grate the second half of the dough on top.

Yes, indeedy, here is a dough-grating action shot!  It sort of looks like I am making lasagna, but instead it is shortbread! 

Stick the entire pan back into the oven until it is golden brown (about 40 minutes), sprinkle powdered sugar on top, and there you have Hungarian Shortbread.

My recipe thoughts:
I thought that there should be a thicker layer of jam.  If you scroll back up a bit to the photo that shows the jam spread over the first layer of dough, the layer is pretty thin.  Maybe I should have used a smaller pan so the jam wouldn't have to spread as far?  If I made it again I think I would 1 1/2 the amount of jam, and use less sugar it it as well.  Rhubarb is tart and for me, the amount of sugar in the jam sweetened it a bit too much.  I did reduce the amount of sugar in the actual dough, to 1 1/2 cups instead of 2 cups.  The dough itself was good, it just needed more zip from the rhubarb.  The grating method successfully made some really light dough, which was fun.  I love a recipe that uses a weird technique!

So would I make this again?  Sure, but I think I would make a few alterations first.  It is definitely a fun recipe to make so I suggest you (a) buy the cookbook!! and/or (b) check out the links above to get the recipe and try it in your own kitchen!  I'd love to hear what you think!


  1. I think you are the first one I've seen who did the jam recipe, too! I wimped out myself. :) That's a great series of pictures!

  2. The jam looks great! If I didn't already have a ton of jam, I would have made it. I might try reducing the sugar next time, also.

    1. Thanks! I would love to learn more about making jam. Is there a good beginners book you would recommend??

  3. Everything looks great. I agree with increasing the filling. I made mine in two 8"rounds and used a cup of jam on each round. It was good...

    I also enjoyed the My Fair Lady reference - that's my favorite movie :-)

  4. I couldn't find rhubarb so used organic blueberry preserves for my filling. It was good. I actually love rhubarb and wonder if adding strawberries to the mix would make it less bland. Your Post was good. Explained all the procedures and techniques very clearly. I get really excited about farm fresh eggs. They were gorgeous. I get farm fresh eggs at my local farmer's market every week and wouldn't miss the trip to pick them up. Can we NOT talk about that pound of butter?!?

  5. We made the jam, too. There was so much rhubarb in my parents' garden that I made extra and it all went onto the shortbread. Love the contrast of tartness and sweet in this recipe. Yours looks great! I can relate to getting excited about farm-fresh eggs - my parents gave up their chickens last year and store-bought eggs just don't compare.


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