Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Shortbread Type Cookies Bursting with Flavor

Continuing with my effort to make as many Guatemalan foods possible while I am printing a copy of my cookbook / memoir for my daughter, today I made Polvorones. 



Polvorones (4 syllables: pohl-voh-ROAN-ehs) are small cookies, a sort of shortbread, covered in powdered sugar. They just "poof" apart when you eat them. They are so delicious, it makes little difference that you end up with crumbs and powdered sugar everywhere! These little cookies are very similar to Polvorosas. In some cases, it is very difficult to tell the difference. When looking through myriad recipes online, and including some I had copied down in Guatemala long years ago, in trying to define the difference, the only thing I could come up with to distinguish is that Polvorones more often have ground nuts added to them, where the Polvorosas are mostly a straight shortbread.


If anyone is unfamiliar with what, precisely, constitutes shortbread, it is a kind of cookie or pastry that generally has three main ingredients: flour, sugar and butter. There is no egg to bind these ingredients, so shortbread is quite crumbly. Sometimes nuts are added, and a little salt, but shortbread is a simple matter. Sometimes part of the flour is substituted with things like cornstarch. 

If anyone is familiar with Russian Tea Cakes or "Snowball", cookies often made for Christmas, then you already have some idea of what these little cookies are like. In the recipe for Russian Tea Cakes that my family has been making since I was a little child, the nuts used are walnuts. I do not believe any deviation was ever made. In more recent years, I have played a bit with the recipe, using ground pistachios and Matcha green tea powder. I called these Pistachio Tea Cakes

Polvorones, sliced to show inside
As I perused different recipes for Polvorones and Polvorosas (note that both these cookie titles have the root word "polvo" in them, meaning "dust", referring to what you end up with when biting into them), there was a serious amount of crossover between them, making me wonder if there ever was a true difference. When I made the Polvorosas, I made them without egg to bind and I used part cornstarch to lighten the mixture a bit; more of a true shortbread cookie. In my recipe for Polvorones, made today, I decided to use ground almonds in the dough, with a tiny amount of true cinnamon, and one egg yolk, to assist in binding the mixture. This makes these cookies not quite "true" shortbread. The Russian Tea Cake cookies we always made were notoriously hard to form. The dough tends to crumble easily. Once you actually get them formed and baked, they are out-of-this-world. Getting them there is the trick. The egg yolk added to this recipe today made the forming just a little bit easier. They are still just wonderfully tender and lightly crisp. The little bit of cinnamon is just enough of a hint that it takes a moment to recognize. They still burst as you bite into them. To me, these are perfect. 


makes about 3 dozen 1 1/2-inch cookies

2 1/4 cups (4 oz. / 312 g.) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (3 oz. / 85 g.) almond meal
1/2 cup (1.75 oz. / 50 g.) confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon (.04 oz. / 1g.) ground true cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (.04 oz. / 1g.) salt
1 cup butter (8 oz. / 2 sticks), room temperature
1 egg yolk (.74 oz. / 21 g.)
1 teaspoon vanilla (.21 oz. / 26 g.)
extra confectioners' sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 on Convection). Place the first 5 ingredients into a large bowl. Add in the butter and use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs, and it should clump a bit when squeezed, but fall apart easily. Separately, mix together the egg yolk and vanilla. Drizzle this over the mixture in the bowl and again, using the pastry cutter, cut in these liquid ingredients well. The amount of liquid ingredients is very small. It is important to have them well incorporated.

           scoop                |            squeeze dough          |                form between finger & thumb                   |  set on baking sheet
Using a cookie scoop makes it easy to form equal sized cookies. If using, pack the scoop, then turn out into the hand. Squeeze the dough to form one mass. Place this ball between the circle formed by placing the tip of first finger and thumb together. With the fingers of the opposite hand, begin pressing from both sides of the dough, flattening and forming into about 1/2-inch thickness. It will have the imprint of the hand: once the dough holds form, begin rotating it and flattening it simultaneously, to make a round cookie about 1 1/2 inches wide x 1/2 inch thick. Set the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet, about 1 1/2 inches apart. 

Bake the cookies for about 10 to 12 minutes. They should be barely golden on the edges. Rotate the pan once during baking time, to ensure even browning. Once baked, have ready a bowl with about a cup of confectioners' sugar. Roll the hot cookies in the sugar and set them to cool. Once cooled, and before storing, roll them in the sugar once more.  

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter. .