Curry Spiced Shortbread Crackers

Week Forty-Eight: Breads With Spices

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When made with butter, crackers can often be finicky things.  Usually, the biscuit method is used, wherein butter is cut into flour, and moisture added until a dough forms.  And woe betide the cook who mixes or rolls or handles the dough too much, for his reward shall be tough and leathery things, instead of the airy delights planned.

Here lies the appeal of today’s recipe.  A wealth of butter is used, but a different method is used to incorporate it, one most often seen in cookie-making.  Indeed, if you’ve ever made icebox (aka: slice and bake) cookies, you’re no stranger to the simple process involved.

The butter is softened, then creamed with just enough sugar to provide a fluffy texture, dry ingredients are mixed in, and the dough shaped into a log to be chilled before slicing and baking.  But that’s where the similarities end; despite the sandy shortbread texture, the finished crackers are as far from a cookie as apples are from oranges.

Spices blossom warmly on your tongue with each bite, first bright with hints of paprika and pepper, then bold with curry and turmeric, which lend their cheery yellow color, and finally finishing with a soft sweetness that makes you crave another nibble.  Poppy and mustard seeds bring a mild depth, but are present more to provide a gentle crunch in contrast to the easy crumble of the crackers.

These saffron-hued coins make an unassuming and pretty addition to an array of hors d’oeuvres, but might very well steal the show with their delicate texture and pop of flavor.  Though the overall taste is far from subtle, these make an excellent match for any number of cocktails.  They paired fantastically with a quickly-made watercress guacamole and a cold flute of crisp Champagne; though I neglected to photograph that (still kicking myself, as it was gorgeous), you’ll have to trust me that it was as peppery, creamy, and delicious as it sounds.

Easy to make, the dough will rest in the refrigerator or freezer until you’re ready to bake, and will produce crackers that are a little too easy to have just one more of.  Could there be a better cocktail snack?  Perhaps; but as long as I’ve got these around, I don’t care to find out.

Curry Spiced Shortbread Crackers
Adapted from Gail Monaghan, via Food & Wine Magazine
Makes about 2 dozen

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
11 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons whole mustard seed
1 teaspoon poppy seed
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 3/4 teaspoon table salt)
3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons milk or cream, or as needed

1.  Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, seeds, and spices.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter, and mix until just blended.

3.  Scrape the dough out onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper, and pat it into a log about 1 1/4 inches in diameter.  Shape the log into a cylinder or a rectangle, and wrap completely with the paper, twisting the ends to seal.  Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.  At this point, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 1 day, or frozen for up to 1 month.  If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator before slicing.  If refrigerated for more than 1 hour, let sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing to prevent the dough shattering.

4.  Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Slice the dough crossways into 1/4 inch thick slices, and arrange on the prepared baking sheet.  With a fork, dock the top of the shortbreads all over.

5.  Bake at 350º F for about 20 minutes, or until golden but not browned.  Slide the parchment onto a wire rack and let the shortbreads cool before serving.

Notes:
1.  The cooled shortbreads can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month.

2.  Don’t be tempted to reduce the sugar; it’s graininess is necessary to aerate the butter for the most delicate and crumbling texture.

3.  A small warning: don’t serve these on or near anything that may stain (ceramic, glass, stainless steel are all okay).  Turmeric and curry, though delicious, are notorious for their ability to leave their permanent yellow signature on anything they can.

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