If you read the recent Wall Street Journal article, you know that I'm not a big fan of following recipes. That's not to say that I don't look at them though. Recipes can be inspirational, and as long as you remember to ask "why", they can be a great way to learn new techniques.
The other day, I saw Syrie's post on Chocolate Melting Moments and was so enamored by the name and photo that I had to try this different approach to shortbread cookies for myself.
Baked goods are almost always some combination of fat, sugar, a binding agent (flour, eggs, etc) and a leavening agent (baking powder, eggs, yeast, etc). Different ratios and mixing techniques will turn these basic ingredients into everything from angel food cake to scones. Mess up the ratios, or mix it wrong though, and you could end up with a flat chewy ring of dough, or a rock hard puck that could send you to the dentist.
That's why I love shortbreads as a platform for experimentation. Since there is no leavening, there's one less variable to consider, and there's little danger of over mixing it because there's almost no liquid to aid in the formation of gluten. These melting moments use cornstarch in addition to flour which makes the cookies literally melt in your mouth.
Curious as to why this happens, I did a bit of research. As it turns out, cornstarch contains a compound called Amylose which is responsible for the thickening effect of starch. When heated with a liquid, the Amylose forms long chains that intertwine to restrict the movement of liquids, making them more viscous. In the absence of a liquid though, starch granules are just hard particles that physically interfere with the formation of gluten chains in the flour. With no protein web to bind things together, these cookies are only held together with fat and sugar. This explains why these dissolve so readily when they hit your warm mouth.
To heighten the effect, I like to keep the cookies in the refrigerator, which gives them an ephemeral snap, followed by a near instant liquification into a pool of sweet creamy strawberry flavour.
While Syrie's Chocolate version looked delightful, I wanted to see what other flavours could be carried in this new vessel, so I turned to my stash of freeze dried fruit. The freeze drying process removes all moisture, so they can be powderized in a food processor to add the flavour of fresh fruit, without adding any liquid.
Freeze dried apricot and peach were both contenders, but I've always had a soft spot for strawberries and cream, which is where I decided to head with this batch of melting moments. If you close your eyes after taking a bite, you can almost imagine a big spoonful of summertime strawberry shortcake with a dollop of vanilla chantilly in your mouth.
Next up, I think I'll do an apricot one filled with an apricot curd, and I'm also contemplating its use as a base for a savoury amuse-bouche. Parmesan melting moment with char grilled ramps and crème fraîche anyone?
- Move the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 300 degrees.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together for a few minutes until it is white and fluffy. Add the powderized strawberry and beat to incorporate.
- Sift the cornstarch and 2/3 C flour into the mixing bowl and mix until combined. Sift the remaining 2/3 C flour into the dough and mix until just combined.
- Spoon small teaspoon sized balls of dough into the palm of your hand and roll into a sphere then place it on parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat, spacing the balls about 1 1/2" apart until there is no room left on the sheet. Pat the balls into 1/4" thick cookies with your fingers, or use a fork dipped in powdered sugar.
- Bake for about 15 minutes, but do not let them turn brown. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for a minute on the pan before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- Whisk the filling ingredients until light and fluffy. When the cookies are completely cool, spread a dab of filling on one cookie and sandwich with another.
- Serve chilled for the most satisfying melting effect.