I have spent the last week with my cousins in Florida. What a fun week. When I started planning all of my travel for 2017 with the break from my job I had three goals mind: 1) See family I have not seen in years. 2) Travel through France and stay in Julia Child’s home. 3) Finally get to tour Mumbai, India. I know I am fortunate and lucky to say I was able to check all three off my list. Visiting my family in Florida was the last on the list of accomplishments.
As I was planning my trip to Florida, I called my parents. I had asked if they were interested in meeting me there. This way I get to spend time with them and with my cousins. Just like a mini family reunion, and a fun one at that. They didn’t have to think about it long…they could stay in cold New Jersey (which happens to be in mist of a blizzard as I write this) or spend time in sunny Florida. Planning our trip worked out greatly as I ended up meeting my parents at the airport; they arrived fifteen minutes after me. And then we were off for non stop family fun. We had family dinners, relaxed beachside, toured neighborhoods, visited with old friends who also now live there, caught up on family gossip, taught my cousin how to make cookies, and laughed a lot.
While I was there I realized that although I have seen the majority of this family at a few weddings over the years, I myself have not visited with them at their homes since I was 16. That is over twenty-five years ago; this visit was way over due. Through technology and the likes of Facebook we try our best to be in the know with one another’s lives. But it is never the same as sitting around a table together, sharing a dish of pasta, and crying because we have laughed way too hard at a silly and all too real story about my late aunt. While I was there with them all, I realized how lucky I am. I come from what I believe is quite possibly the warmest and most caring group of people. No matter how much time will pass, we always find comfort in one another’s company. All of my family members have been there for each other to listen when needed and always there with words of wisdom that has passed through our generations. We have looked out for one another, hugged each other, and wiped tears when needed. Family is family, cousins are wonderful, and when you can all get along the way we do, your heart feels full beyond belief.
With all of my traveling I had planned over the last three months, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to try out a new recipe I had been running through my mind: Fennel Pollen Short Bread. My husband Is my usual taste tester and idea person. When I have something that I really want to test out, I make it and he will openly critique it for me; I trust him truly for an honest opinion. After running the idea of this cookie by my him, he nodded his head and had a feeling I was onto something. But if anyone could be more honest than he, it would be my family. I first made this recipe and brought it with me when I visited my family in Utah this past January. I knew I was onto something when my cousin Judy asked me twice how I made them and her husband Scott denoted all the flavors he picked up as he chewed on one. When I was headed to Florida I baked off another batch and brought them with me. After dinner our first evening I opened up the cookies and let everyone try. With smiles, they all agreed that is was a great shortbread with an intriguing flavor. My mom, so boldly honest, stated: “These are good, but not as good as your Rosemary Shortbread.” Fair enough, I totally appreciated her honesty. But with everyone else giving me the thumbs up, I share the following recipe with you. To sum it up: family can make you feel loved anytime of day, and always be honest with you. I love this cookie recipe, but I love my family more! But now back to reality in the Pacific NorthWest.
Fennel Pollen Shortbread
8 oz butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp fennel pollen (see note)
First: in the bowl of a standing mixer place your butter along with your powdered sugar and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Blend it together until fluffy and add in the vanilla extract and combine it together well. Be sure to stop and scrape the bottom of the bowl a couple of times to ensure it is evenly mixed.
Next: in a separate bowl whisk together your flour, baking powder, salt, and 1 tsp of your fennel pollen. Slowly add this mixture to your butter while mixing at a low speed. Be sure to stop and scrape the bowl occasionally so that your dough is evenly mixed. Mix it all until a ball of dough forms.
Then, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out the shortbread dough, with another layer of parchment paper placed over the top of the dough. Roll it out in a rectangular shape, and about a 1/4 - 1/2 inch in thickness (About as long and wide as your baking sheet). With a sharp knife, mark the shortbread into square or rectangular shapes to your liking. I do about 1 inch by 1 & 1/2 inch. Then I pierce The center of each marking with a fork a few times (this ensures steam to escape the cookie without creating bubbles).
Meanwhile, place the cookie sheet in the freezer for about 15 - 20 minutes to firm up your dough. Heat your oven to 325 degrees and also place the remainder fennel pollen and sugar in a bowl and mix together until well combined.
Finally, when your oven is heated through and the shortbread dough is firm, sprinkle the dough with the fennel pollen and sugar mixture. Coat the top of the shortbread dough evenly, and place the sheet pan in the center of the oven. Bake the shortbread about 20 - 30 minutes, rotating it half way though. Be sure the center of the dough is firm to touch and the edges are golden before removing them from the oven. Let cool on a wire rack until cool to touch. Using the score marks you made with your knife, recut your cookies and serve.
*Note: Fennel Pollen is different than fennel seeds, with a more mild flavor and slightly floral aroma. Although it may be hard to find in your average supermarket, you can find it at specialty shops or order it from a spice shop.
**Note: Shortbread keeps well in an airtight container for about a week.