Monday, August 20, 2012

The Elegance of Almond Shortbread Cookies

“Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed.”

- Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I realized two somethings this week.

The first something is that it is so much easier to take a book and derive a recipe from it than it is to take a recipe I already have and match it to a book I've read.

The second something is that perhaps I need to be bolder in recommending books to you all. I feel I am sometimes apologetic about the books I am choosing, and you know what? I don't need to be. You might not like these books! You might judge me based on what sort of books they are! But I don't care anymore, because by sharing these with you, I'm merely being honest. And so, from here on out, I do not intend to apologize for my choices.

Tea leaves, tea, and cookies

That being said, Boyf does not like this book, but I absolutely love it.

It's really just a bunch of philosophy and postulation built into the minds of the two main characters (though I would argue with you that Renee is more the main character than Paloma). Somehow the prose I read (in English) is beautiful despite being translated from the original French. It is jarring, sad, reflective; it is about the beauty of life, shown through cultured, intelligent, lonely eyes.

And it touches upon indulgence. Some of the best moments in the book involve meals, whether it is the glorious, ceremonial moments Ozu shares with Renee and Paloma or the secluded, secretive moments Renee experiences alone. There truly are moments of French pastries and Japanese tea, and the delicacy of the two compliment each other quite nicely. 

These cookies are (dare I say it?) almost perfect. I have made shortbread quite a few times before, but never before did they turn out so lovely. They were crisp and light and just barely browned on the bottom.

Elegant Almond Shortbread Cookies

2 c cold butter (cut up into little pieces)
½ c white sugar
2 c flour
pinch of salt
1 t almond extract

1. Mix the butter and the sugar together. I used my beautiful Kitchenaid mixer for about 15-20 seconds, but you could use a pastry blender, a fork, or your (clean!) hands. If you use that last method, do it quickly so you don't melt the butter.

2. Add flour, salt, and almond extract, and mix some more, until it seems lighter and less dense. I mixed in the Kitchenaid for 3 minutes this time, until it was almost fluffy-looking.

3. And now the recipe splits! Follow all A steps or all B steps; do not mix and match!

3A. Roll out and cut into shapes with your cookie cutter, and place on a prepared cookie sheet. 

3B. Chill dough for 20-30 minutes.

4A. Chill cookie shapes in fridge for 30-40 minutes.

4B. Pull dough out and roll into balls. Flatten them and, if you want, sprinkle with some extra sugar.

5. Bake at  350°F (177.7 C) for 8-10 minutes.

This meal is best enjoyed with some delicate jasmine tea and a good book.


  1. You have a gift with the written word and you need to make sure you never stop writing. Oh,and bring me some of those cookies too. :)

  2. your father is right, you do have a gift with the written word. you are one smart cookie. :) i love you and am so incredibly proud of you. nani j.

  3. Keep 'em coming, I'm loving it. When I need a reading list (like next week on vacation) I plan to refer to your blog. Nice job!
    p.s. I don't eat cookies anymore but if I did I'd try these!