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Spicy Cheddar Shortbread

Okay people, the holidays are quickly approaching and that means people dropping by with gifts and lovely bottles of wine to share and you need to be prepared. In the olden days, I would make fussy appetizers and hor d'oeuvres that would require hours in the kitchen and would often take me away from my guests. The oohs and ahhs were good for the ego but I realized that just as I was ready to sit down and relax, my friends were getting their coats on to leave. I thought it was more important to wow them than to sit and have a glass of wine with them but with age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes a much more enjoyable, relaxed holiday season. 

What I do now is make sure my fridge is stocked with a variety of nice cheeses, a couple of nice charcuterie items like pate, sliced italian salamis etc and spicy, savoury jams.jellies  and chutneys.  This way, I feel like I can invite friends over last minute without having to worry about what I am going to serve them.

I do like to include things I have made myself so every year I try to make one savoury jam myself, some sweet things like cookies and truffles  and a couple of different types of spicy cookie or cracker to serve with the cheese and charcuterie. 

I was pretty honoured to be one of six Canadian food bloggers to be featured in the holiday issue of Eat In Eat Out Magazine and we each gave them two recipes for entertaining during the holidays that we felt represented us so I went with one sweet and one savoury. This recipe is being featured this month and in January, they will feature our second recipes (in my case, my cardamom truffles). This nippy little biscuit is very me - buttery and smooth but with a surprising bite to it and a little bit unexpected.

There is a company in Toronto that makes the most delicious shortbreads and I have spent years trying to replicate my favourites. I think I now have a pretty good base recipe that you can change by subbing the cheeses and the spices. I usually do a cheddar/chipotle cookie but since I have this beautiful spanish smoked paprika I am dying to use, this year I changed it up a bit. 

You can freeze the logs of uncooked dough for up to a couple of months and you can also keep a log in the fridge for about a week and just slice off as many cookies as you are going to need for the 
evening so that you can always have a fresh batch of shortbread for your guests. I don't know about your personal levels of self control but I know that if I bake up 20 of these cookies when I really only need about 10 that I will eat the other ten myself before I finish my morning coffee the next day and I don't need to be doing that. These cookies are nothing butter butter and cheese so don't forget that when you are popping them into your mouth like popcorn.

Spicy Cheddar Shortbread

makes about 30 cookies
*** CORRECTION: the recipe in the Eat In Eat Out calls for 21 tbls paprika - it's only 2tsp

1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
15 grinds black pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne
200 grams finely grated sharp cheddar (I used Alex Farm Reserve Cheddar - 8yr)
1 cup unbleached flour
lightly toasted pecans
1 egg whitewater
coarse salt like kosher for sprinkling on the top (i used fleur de sel but kosher works fine too)
parchment paper

Using either a hand mixer or your stand mixer, cream together the butter, salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne. Now, grab a wooden spoon and start mixing in the cheese and flour a bit at a time until just combined. Use your hands to work the dough until it sticks together and put half of it on a sheet of parchment paper and press it into a log shape, probably about an inch or an inch and a half in diameter. Wrap it up in the parchment and put it in the fridge for about 20 minutes. You can also freeze it (i always freeze half to use later) by wrapping the log in a double layer of plastic wrap and then covering that in foil.

Preheat the oven to 350, put the rack in the top third of the oven and line a cookie sheet with parchment. Remove your cookie log from the fridge and carefully slice into 1/4 to 1/8" slices and arrange on the cookie sheet. Brush the tops with some beaten egg white, sprinkle with a touch of course salt and press a chunk of toasted pecan into the centre of each cookie.

Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 15 minutes.
Cool on the baking sheets for five minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. If you store them in a tightly covered container in the fridge and just take them out an hour before serving, they will keep for weeks.

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