Thursday, December 8, 2011

Savoury Cheddar Shortbread

Deliciously rich and wonderfully crumbly, these Savoury Cheddar Shortbread make the perfect party appetizer or holiday hostess gift, if they last that long! The shortbread really benefit from the best quality sharp cheddar you can find, and combined with fresh unsalted butter and a fragrant blend of spicy cayenne, smokey Hungarian paprika and finished with a light dusting of Herbes de Provence or Maldon Sea Salt, these savoury little nibbles add a touch of elegance to any get-together. 

Also, versatility is their middle name. To make a Pecorino Shortbread, substitute 1/4 cup each grated pecorino Romano and Parmesan cheese for the cheddar, or to make a more exotic shortbread, you can add 2 teaspoons of curry powder for an outstanding Indian flavour - my favourite! - caraway for a decidedly Eastern European touch, or toasted cumin seeds for a North African twist. They're all delicious, but the intoxicating buttery-cheese aroma that infuses the kitchen as they bake, means they don't last long once they're out of the oven! There, you've been warned.

Savoury Cheddar Shortbread
Makes about 48

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
8 oz extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp dried thyme, crumbled

Using electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together butter, salt, black pepper, paprika and cayenne at medium speed, just until blended. Add Cheddar, flour and thyme and mix at low speed just until smooth. Split dough in half and shape into two sausage-shaped rolls, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for one hour. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place rolls of dough on a lightly floured surface. Slice into 1/8" thick coins, then arrange 1" apart on the baking sheet. Bake until the shortbread are lightly golden and beginning to brown on the edges, about 11-13 minutes. Let cool a few minutes on the baking sheet. Repeat with the second roll. Serve warm or at room temperature with cocktails. The shortbread can be stored in an airtight container, or frozen until needed.