When my turn to host book club was approaching (three falls ago, I am really behind in my posts!), I finally got to try a few recipes I'd had my eye on for some time. We often try to go with the theme of the book. This time it was Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, which featured a character who works a little magic on townspeople with dishes using edible flowers and herbs from her garden.
I baked lavender shortbread from the great little cookbook Shortbread by Jann Johnson (this book is a must for shortbread fans), adding sparkling sugar to the top. The other recipe, for the curved, crisp French cookie called a tuile (pronounced something like tweel), was adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich. I added lemon zest, petals from my mother's favorite rose, Double Delight, and thyme from my own garden.
Tuiles often get their shape by being draped over a rolling pin to cool, but my rolling pin would hold only three or four cookies. So I used a tip from the recipe: Bake the cookies on buttered foil, then when done, quickly grasp one end of the foil and gently roll it into a tube with the cookies curving inside. Let it cool and gently unroll, slowly peeling cookies from foil. Much faster than waiting for three cookies to cool on a rolling pin before continuing, and much cheaper than buying more rolling pins! I am thinking now that empty wine bottles draped with foil might work. . .
I absolutely love shortbread; It's easy and buttery and has that addictive melt-in-your-mouth texture. And these were delicious. But the tuiles, flecked with pink rose petals and bits of fresh thyme and fragrant with lemon, were beautiful, tasty and looked impressive.
I also tried a recipe for Rose Petal Iced Tea; Most of us thought it was at least "interesting," but only one of us really liked it. Fortunately, it was my house guest Maria who made sure it didn't go to waste. I don't remember now what recipe I used, but I found it online. I remember only that the rose petals were steeped in hot simple sugar syrup. It was very pretty in a glass pitcher.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. dried culinary lavender
Sparkling white sugar for top
Preheat the oven to 300. Lightly butter an 8-inch round pan with a removable bottom, or use an ungreased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
In a medium bowl, beat butter till light in color with an electric mixer on low speed or a wooden spoon, about 1 minute. Mix in the confectioners' sugar salt and rose or vanilla extract and continue beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually mix in flour until just combined.
Press the dough evenly into the pan, using the back of a soup spoon to smooth the surface. Or, pat the dough into a rectangle or square on the baking sheet. Decoratively score or flute the edges and prick the dough in an attractive design with a fork. Sprinkle top with sparkling sugar.
Bake in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes (start checking at 30, sooner if you patted it into a thinnish form on the baking sheet) or until set and firm to a light touch. Don't leave it in long enough to brown. Place pan on a wire rack and let cool completely. Transfer the shortbread from the pan to a cutting board. Cut into wedges or squares with a thin, sharp knife.
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and still warm, plus extra for greasing baking sheet liners
3/4 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped if leaves aren't tiny
Zest of one lemon
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg whites
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 CAP (of bottle) rose water (probably about 1/2 tsp.)
10 to 12 rose petals, diced
In medium bowl, whisk together the 3 tbsp. very warm melted butter with the thyme and lemon zest, cover and let infuse for 5 minutes. Add sugar, egg whites, vanilla, rose water, rose petals, flour and salt and whisk until blended. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days before proceeding.
Place heavy foil on baking sheets dull side up, and grease with remaining melted butter. I used a pastry brush. Make sure foil is smooth or the cookies may be distorted.
Drop level teaspoons of the batter 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon and a circular motion, spread the batter evenly in 2 1/2-inch rounds or ovals about 1/16 inch thick.
If you want curved tuiles, have your rolling pin(s) (or wine bottles) ready unless you are using the foil trick.
Bake, watching carefully, for 10 to 15 minutes (mine took 10), until the tuiles are a light golden brown nearly halfway to the center but still pale in the middle. Rotate the pans from top to bottom racks and front to back halfway through baking time to ensure even baking. If they aren't baked long enough, they won't be crispy when they cool.
For curved tuiles: As soon as you can slide a thin metal spatula under the cookies without tearing them, transfer to drape over rolling pin to cool, or grasp the edges of the foil when sheet comes out of the oven and roll into a fat cylinder, gently curving the cookies like potato chips. Secure the foil roll with a paper clip or clothespin. When cool, gently unroll the foil and remove cookies.
Repeat until all the tuiles are baked.
To keep them crisp, store in airtight container as soon as they are cool. They will keep that way for up to a month.