Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cheese-In Crackers

My husband: Now what are you doing?  We're supposed to leave in an hour.
Me:  I signed up to bring a cheese tray to the potluck tonight.
Him: So how come the oven's on and there's flour all over the counter?
Me:  Because I'm baking the crackers.
My husband:  What universe do you live in?*

I do probably need to go see someone about this.

Parmesan Shortbread with Fennel and Sea Salt
The combination of the nutty Parmesan, the hint of sweetness, the bite of pepper and the lightly floral accent from the fennel is just plain brilliant.  Originally a savory cookie from Blue Bottle Coffee, I knew as soon as I read the recipe these would be astonishing on a cheese tray.  At least in my universe.  Adapted from this month's Bon Appetit Magazine.  The original recipe called for these to be cut into larger rectangles, and baked for a while longer.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour plus more
1 cup finely grated Parmesan (about 2 ounces)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt or other coarse salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Beat butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth, 1–2 minutes. Add powdered sugar, pepper, and kosher salt.  Increase speed to medium and mix, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until light and fluffy, 4–5 minutes. Add flour and cheese. Stir in with a wooden spoon or strong spatula, just until dough comes together.

Form into a ball with your hands, then flatten into a rectangle and wrap tightly in plastic.  Chill until firm, at least an hour.

Lightly crush fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle.  Add sea salt and stir gently to combine.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Take dough out of the fridge, unwrap, and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.  Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut into 2 inch squares.   Arrange cookies on prepared baking sheet, spacing about an inch apart.   Brush cookies generously with olive oil, then sprinkle with the fennel salt.

Bake for 12 minutes, or until just beginning to turn golden brown on the edges.  You may see a few darker golden flecks from the cheese.   Cool completely.  These are spectacular on their own, but topped with a dab of soft Cambozola cheese? OMFG.

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* The good kind of universe.  Where there are awesome Rosemary Raisin Crisps at Trader Joe's for when you just want to buy the crackers instead.  My husband, on the other hand, lives in a universe where it is OK to say to your wife, "What do you do at the gym?  Just hop on the treadmill and waddle about?"

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