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Thing of the Day — Black Walnut Shortbread


Laura says she’s over all the holiday sweets. Not me. I never can tire of baking and sweet things, but that’s because I’ve got a baker’s soul, generations deep, and an athlete’s psyche, out on the street taking a run or riding my bike every day to compensate. So, with all due respect for the January buzz urging moderation in eating, here’s a photo of the black walnut shortbread I just baked. Black walnuts in particular are an obsession of mine. I wrote about them in my book Walking On Walnuts which is much more about old recipes and modern life, just like jellypress, than it is about walnuts. My favorite black walnut recipe comes from Sarah Belk, who wrote the fabulous cookbook Around the Southern Table. These cookies are like pecan sandies in texture, but in flavor, worlds beyond the ordinary. If you’ve never tasted a black walnut, do. They’re more intense, more darkly rich and more flavorful than other nuts, and though they need tempering with other ingredients to render them palatable to most people, they are sublime in that way that food lovers crave: singular, unrivaled, challenging to the adventurous. Their toughness to crack has made them legendary (there are stories of trucks being backed over them in order to open them, but I can’t confirm that . . .) Read about and buy them here. So I know it’s officially Get-in-Shape-and-Eat-Light January, but if you still want something sweet once in a while, try this recipe:

Black Walnut Squares
Adapted from Around the Southern Table by Sarah Belk, Simon and Schuster, 1991
Note: Sarah’s original recipe uses buckwheat flour but I used all white all-purpose flour. If you try the buckwheat, let me know. I can’t wait to get some and try it again.

Makes 16 squares

1/2 cup California walnuts
1/2 cup black walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/4 t. salt
6 T. cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 T. grated lemon zest
1 T. brandy (I used dark rum)
confectioner’s sugar to shake on after baking, if desired.

1. Preheat oven 300 degrees F.
2. In a blender or food processor, process nuts and sugar until finely ground. Add flour(s) and salt and process until just mixed. Add butter and process until crumbly. Add lemon zest and brandy (or rum) and pulse until mixture just holds together. Pat the dough into a flat cake, wrap and chill at least 2 hours (or alternatively chill in freezer for 30 minutes but be careful not to freeze too long.)
3. Fit the dough evenly into a nonstick or lightly buttered 8 inch by 8 inch baking pan. Using a sharp knife, score the dough into 16 bars. Bake for about 45 minutes, checking the pan and rotating it halfway through baking time to ensure even browning. When golden, remove from oven and while still warm, score over the lines you made earlier to separate the bars. Remove them from pan with a narrow, flexible spatula. Cool on a rack. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

see also: Thing Of The Day — Fresh Dough

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