December, Day 7: German shortbread cookies with Rosemary
I don’t remember where I was the first time I ate a shortbread cookie. I have a vague idea that it might have been in Disney World’s England pavillion at Epcot Center (Seriously, isn’t Epcot the best?). I do remember ripping into a package of Walker’s Shortbread Fingers and being a little skeptical. They look so plain? How could they taste good?
Fifteen minutes later, the box was empty.
Since then I’ve carried on a torrid secret affair with shortbread. I’ll go months and months without one and then I’ll cave and eat a whole box in a single sitting. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars over the years on shortbread from gourmet stores that were handy. Once last year I brought a box of shortbread fingers to the movies and my sister and I polished them off before the previews were over. I don’t remember the movie, but I remember the shortbread. It’s also a favorite road trip snack of mine. Every time I fly through Heathrow I buy myself an exorbitantly priced box of Walker’s to go with my cheap Jaffa cakes (Do we think it’s possible to take Jaffa cakes through security these days? That jelly filling is, after all, a gel.)
Anyway, I managed to go through two whole years in Germany eating every baked good in sight and not learn that there is a German equivalent to the Walker’s phenomenon. They’re called Heidesand and are apparently a Christmastime favorite. They’re sometimes translated as German Sand Cookies, sometimes as Sandies, sometimes simply as German Shortbread.
The name, however, comes from the words Heide, meaning heath (and possibly alluding to the Lüneburger Heide in Northern Germany), and Sand, meaning sand (and possibly alluding to the sandy nature of the soil in the heath). To be linguistically frivolous, though, I thought on first reading the name that it came from der Heide instead of die Heide, which would make the cookies be called Heathen Sand. (Silly gendered language.) In addition to Heathen Sand being my new favorite mistranslation (ironic that a Christmas Cookie should be named for heathens, isn’t it?), it is also the name of the hypothetical death metal band that I’ll be fronting as soon as I can grow my hair to thrashing length and buy some pancake makeup.
Anyway, these cookies have the same delectable buttery denseness and crackling of sugar on the outside that I know from Walker’s, but this recipe adds two refinements that set this cookie wholly apart from its competition. First, the dough is herbed up with the addition of fresh rosemary. Second, the sugar around the edges of the cookies is mixed with lemon zest, so that it has a beautiful citrusy note. One of my German colleagues called these cookies “absolut himmlisch.”** And, if I’m allowed, I’ll agree. They are heavenly.
In other news, if you’re one of my Real Life Friends, you know that I’ve got a big party coming up on the 18th. This post is the first in a series featuring recipes I’ll be trotting out for the party. If you’re a Real Life Friend, you can look forward to these cookies in a couple weeks! Hurrah!
Heidesand Cookies with Rosemary and Lemon Zest
Recipe translated and adapted from the Christmas Special edition of Essen & Trinken
- 22 T (2 sticks plus 6 T) butter, room temperature
- 1 1/4 c sugar
- 3/4 t salt
- 1.5 t vanilla extract
- .5 t bourbon (optional)
- 1 egg
- 2 sprigs rosemary (about 1 T rosemary leaves, but I would probably double this next time)
- 3 1/2 c flour
- zest of one lemon
- 1/2 c sugar
- Pull the rosemary leaves from the stem and chop medium-fine.
- Beat the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
- Add the vanilla extract, bourbon, and egg and mix until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently.
- Add the rosemary and mix until incorporated.
- Add the four 1/2 c at a time until you have a stiff, but smooth dough.
- Form the dough into a ball, slightly flatten, wrap in plastic and put in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix the other 1/2 c sugar with the lemon zest. Whisk together until the mixture resembles yellowish sand.
- Once the dough is chilled, remove it from the freezer and divide in half.
- Form each half of the dough into a log about 16 inches long, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
- Place half of the lemon sugar onto your work surface and carefully roll the first dough log in it, pressing lightly to be sure the lemon sugar adheres. Be sure all sides are coated.
- Repeat with the other dough log, then wrap both in plastic and place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, but really, for as long as you want. If the dough freezes, let it thaw in the fridge until it’s firm but not frozen.
- Preheat the oven to 400.
- Slice the dough into rounds about 1/2″ thick. (You can make them thinner if you want, but keep a close eye while baking.) Place the dough slices on a prepared baking sheet (parchment or sil-pat).
- Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes, but check for doneness starting around 10 minutes. The cookies are done when the edges are golden brown.
- Let them cool on the baking sheet, then enjoy with a cup of tea!
**”Absolut Himmlisch” is how Absolut will market their forthcoming line of communion wines.