In a crisis, some people hoard toilet paper.
And apparently, from the looks of social media, I’m not the only one. Peppering the updates of so many of my friends lately are photos and confessions of baking to ease the mind or merely distract from the news of late.
I readily admit that I sometimes fall victim to procrastibaking — ignoring writing deadlines only to bake a batch of cookies instead. Stress baking is merely its close cousin.
Psychologists have explained that those who hoard toilet paper or empty grocery shelves in a panic are only trying to exercise control in a world that now seems very much out of our hands. We can’t guarantee we won’t catch a deadly coronavirus. But darned if we can’t make sure our pantries and cupboards are filled to capacity.
And so, I bake. Because if I’m going down, I’m doing so fighting — and with a ready-steady supply of buttery sweet treats.
“Bigger Bolder Irish Shortbread” is ideal at times like this. It’s from the new cookbook, “Bigger Bolder Baking: A Fearless Approach to Baking Anytime, Anywhere” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019), of which I received a review copy.
Included are more than 115 appealing recipes for everything from “Baked Cinnamon-Sugar Churros” and “Homemade Jelly Doughnuts” to “30-Minute Chocolate Roulade” and “Peanut Butter & Fudge Ice Cream Pie.”
“Bigger Bolder Irish Shortbread” is especially timely with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner. With manic shoppers emptying store shelves, it’s also a handy recipe because it uses only four ingredients — flour, sugar, butter and cornstarch — that you probably already have on hand.
The recipe says to cream the sugar and butter in a bowl with a wooden spoon. I did it with an electric mixer instead, not only to give my arms a break but because I think it’s just really difficult to get the mixture as creamy with a spoon as you would with a mixer’s whirling paddle attachment.
Just press the dough into the pan. Then, use a knife to make cuts in it, before pricking it all over with the tines of a fork.
I’d never made shortbread before that had so much cornstarch in it — a full cup. What it does is create a shortbread that truly melts in your mouth. The crunchy exterior gives way to a near-powdery textured interior that just dissolves in your mouth with blissful buttery goodness.
The shortbread is perfect alongside a cup of tea, coffee, hot cocoa — or a scoop of ice cream.
We may not be able to control world events right now. But we have the power to turn on the oven to bake the simplest of cookies that surely will bring a measure of sweet comfort.
Bigger Bolder Irish Shortbread
(Makes 16 cookies)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and line it with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until pale, light, and fluffy. Or alternatively, use an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Add the flour and cornstarch. Mix very lightly until you have a smooth dough.
Press the dough into the prepared pan. With a knife, cut the dough into 16 fingers measuring 1-by-4-inches (these marks will make it easier to cut your baked shortbread). Prick the dough all over with a fork.
Bake for about 50 minutes, until golden brown. Let the shortbread cool slightly in the pan, then, while it’s still warm, cut along the marks into 16 bars.
Store the shortbread in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
Adapted from “Bigger Bolder Baking” by Gemma Stafford
More Comfort-Food Baked Goods: Apple Brownies