My mom and I had this funny kind of Xmas tradition. She had this decadent, simple, delicious recipe for shortbread, comprised mostly of butter, cornstarch, icing sugar and flour. She would roll out this decadent and rich dough and cut it into triangular, diamond and rectangular shapes. Mom did not like fiddly work in the kitchen, so using cookie cutters and rolling the dough countless times was just not in her wheelhouse. But those cookies-oh my goodness! They tasted just like flaky butter, if butter could be flaky.
Here is the tradition. Every Xmas, I would call her up and ask her for her recipe. She would reply, “Just a minute dear, let me get it”. And so it would go every year. The odd time that I could not get in touch with her when I was raring to go on the shortbread cookie baking, I would use another recipe for shortbread, called Melting Moments. But, it was never quite the same.
So, when it was time to bake the shortbread this year, I thought of my mom and our tradition and decided that maybe I would try to find her unparalleled cookie recipe. I have this cookbook that I put together for Mom so many years ago. It contains many of her favorite family recipes, like Yorkshire Pudding and Johnny Cake. Over the years, she added recipes from the newspapers, from friends and from magazines. She would not write them out neatly on the pages provided in the recipe book, but would poke holes in the paper and clip it onto the rings in the binder. Tattered recipes also fill some pockets in the book. Dog eared pages stick out from the edges of the binder and the front has some food smudges on it. And there isn’t a thing about it that I would change. I display this book proudly in my kitchen and it is a constant, familiar, wonderful, bittersweet reminder of my mom.
So, yesterday, I was sure that I would find the shortbread recipe in this collection of treasured recipes. As I opened the cover, memories of learning to cook and to bake from my mom and then cooking and baking with my mom came flooding back. Visions of Yule Log, Oatmeal Cookies and Sour Cream Coffee Cake danced in my head (to coin a phrase). Recipes, written on sticky and floury envelopes, scraps of paper and even on grocery lists, graced the pages of Mom’s favorites and must tries. I looked through the book twice, but much to my disappointment, the recipe just was not there.
Back to the backup plan. I searched through my own pile of dog eared and sticky recipes. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Ah, ha! here it is-the recipe that “littlest sister” and I used when we had our catering establishment way back when. Let me tell you, I have made lots of shortbread in my time. But, like most recipes, this recipe lists butter made from cow’s milk as one of its main ingredients. And, as you know, I do not use cow’s milk butter for any purpose, even if it is to uphold a tradition. No problem – I started using Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks. But that has all changed since I found out that Earth Balance is comprised mostly of palm oil. I have ethical objections to the production and use of palm oil, so I just don’t use Earth Balance anymore.
Coconut oil came to mind as an option, so I thought, why not try it out. I did some research and was assured that coconut oil can be substituted for butter in a one to one ratio, even though one website suggested adding 80% oil and 20 % water in order to better mimic the composition of dairy butter. I wasn’t sure how to do that, so I went with the majority and substituted one for one. The cookie dough looked fine as I pressed it into the cookie molds that I use every Xmas. But they took so darn long to cook, like twice the time and they did feel a bit oily to the touch. Time for a hot, just out of the oven, but slightly cooled, taste test. This is the tough part of my job, but I do this for you LOL! The cookie tasted fine – buttery, flaky, not too sweet, but that oily feel did not sit well with me. So, back to the computer for more research.
Time for another batch. I reduced the amount of oil by one quarter and had another go, with much better results. Less oily, but, interestingly enough, not less cooking time. This may need some tweaking before next Xmas rolls around.
Without further adieu, here is my revised, plant placed rendition of Melting Moments (aka shortbread cookies). Scroll down for the Printable Recipe.
1). Measure coconut oil and place in bowl of mixer. I weigh the coconut oil. One cup equals 8 ounces or 227 grams. You can also spoon and press the oil into a measuring cup, making sure there are no air pockets.
2). Cream coconut oil well. I noticed that the oil retained little lumps far longer than butter does. So, do the finger pinching test until the lumps are mostly gone.
3). Sift the icing sugar and add to the oil in one shot. Remember folks, unless you want to have icing sugar all over your face, please incorporate slow-w-ly. If you hear a whooomp!!! sound you are already in big trouble. Beat for about three minutes until light and fluffy.
4). Add the cornstarch and beat until well blended.
5). Sift the flour before adding to the batter. Mix on medium speed until mixture forms a ball around the paddle. Don’t despair if the batter is crumbly at first. I assure you, it will form a ball.
6) Press cookies into shortbread molds. You may also form dough into a uniform ball, place on a well floured counter, roll out to about 1/4 inch and use cookie cutters or a knife to create your desired shape.
7). Cool trays in fridge for 10 minutes and then bake at 300 degrees F. for 25-30 minutes.
8). Cool cookies on trays for ten minutes and then place on cookie racks.
9). Store in the freezer.
Vegan Annie’s Handy Kitchen Tips
If you have a special recipe that you would like to transform into a kind and compassionate dish, take the time to experiment.
Some things just don’t seem to work.
So, if you have to set aside a family favorite, remembering why you are doing so makes it much easier.
New traditions are good traditions.
May all beings be happy and free.