Friday, July 31, 2009

a small, good thing

That is the title of a Ramon Carver story. In it, a baker offers hot rolls to a couple whose son has died. He says, "Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this."

Last week, I found out that the creamy cheddar potatoes we have at Easter are sometimes called "Funeral Potatoes." Somehow that doesn't make me like them any less. I always welcome comfort food.

I have been to my fair share of funerals. I am intrigued by what is served at the reception. Sometimes it's catered, most often a potluck of dishes. I like the casseroles, the broccoli salads, the desserts with marshmallow. Usually those grieving hardly touch the food, won't remember what exactly was served. But they will remember the gesture.

My friends and I went to an out-of-town funeral last weekend. On our drive there, we stopped a small-town diner, where the regulars each have their own mug. We drank marginal (weak) coffee. I think it would have tasted better in a personalized mug.

I decided to bring something nontraditional to the reception, as far as funeral food goes. Tucked in the buffet, just past the ham, baked beans, and brownies, was my contribution of Hazelnut Shortbread.

I used an old Gourmet recipe for hazelnut cookies and changed a few things. These aren't as buttery as traditional shortbread, but you won't miss it with the hazelnut and orange flavors. And please don't hold off on baking them. You deserve a small, good thing every day.

Hazelnut Shortbread

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup hazelnuts, slightly roasted and cooled, ground

Preheat oven to 325°F. and grease 1 large or 2 small baking sheets.
With an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla and zest.
Into another bowl sift together flour, salt, and baking powder, beat into butter mixture until just combined. Stir in ground nuts.
Roll level tablespoons of dough into balls and put 2-inches apart on baking sheets. Press lightly with a flat object (i.e. bottom of a glass) until you have a 1/2" disk. Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven until pale golden, about 18 minutes depending on your oven. Cool cookies on baking sheets 2 minutes and carefully transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely. Store in a sealed container and eat within a few days. Or freeze some for a rainy day.

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