remember coming to the farm in March in sugaring time, as a small boy.
He carried the pails of sap, sixteen-quart buckets,
dangling from each end of a wooden yoke that lay across his shoulders,
and emptied them into a vat in the saphouse
where fire burned day and night for a week.”
From Maple Syrup by Donald Hall
As a young California boy my only maple flavor experience occurred on Sundays when I might be lucky enough to eat pancakes smothered in maple syrup or grab a maple bar with napkin after church. I don’t remember using maple extract in making any cookies with my mother. I had no real connection with harvesting and producing maple syrup until later in life.
As an older California man I have memories of visiting my father-in-law and his maple syrup boiler where his sap boiled and steam hit the air above the roof and turned to clouds. His impatient personality wouldn’t allow the sap to boil down to syrup, so we always received watery maple sap as gifts for the holidays.
The in-laws have passed on, so memories their memories are turning gray. Late last summer I walked up a backcountry road in the Catskills with my brother-in-law. As we talked through our lives, my eyes caught sight of an orchard filled with maple trees and tubes strung from tree to tree. With sap flowing, my thoughts paused and reflected. I smiled and received some sort of aged comfort, knowing real maple syrup would be on my table again this year and that all the treats I bake in the fall will come alive with the flavor of maple.
Now for the test
I collect three recipes for this test; two from on-line sources and one, from a book, I converted from a gluten recipe.
I gathered all the primary ingredients for each recipe and laid them out on my pastry to graphically review the variations in the three recipes.GEEK ANALYSIS OF RECIPES
Recipe #1 has a lower percentage of butter and sugar to flour and is significantly different for the other recipes because of this high percentage of flour.
Recipe #2 has a similar butter percentage as Recipe #2 while #3 has the highest percentage of butter and sugar combined. However, significantly, #2 has added moisture by using both honey and an egg yolk. The flour percentage for recipes #2 and #3 are similar while recipe #2 has the highest ratio of pecans.
Recipe #3 has the highest percentage of butter and sugar with a comparable amount of flour with #2 and the lowest percentage of pecans.
As I work through the recipes these percentage differences of ingredients will show their strengths and weaknesses in judging final cookie quality.
MIXING THE INGREDIENTS.
General cookie recipe instructions are the same for all GF shortbreads. Here are some helpful insights and tips for mixing shortbread cookie dough based on the recipes in this test.
Bring the butter (I normally use unsalted butter) to room temperature. If in a rush, like always, use a microwave to warm the butter. As an example, 1 cup of butter softens in 15 seconds. Drop the butter in a mixer and beat until smooth, then add sugar and continue beating . . . . and beating until fluffy.
When adding the other wet ingredients, vanilla, maple extract, maple syrup and egg, pour them in little by little. After the first pour (egg or extracts) mix until the ingredients are totally back to a fluffy state. Then add the rest of the liquid and beat again until totally back to fluffy. This process takes a bit of patience, but is really, really important.
Here’s the look!
In these 3 test recipes I used the same 3 flours; white rice, tapioca and potato starch. I follow the general rule of using 1/3 starch-type flours and 2/3 grains. Add your other dry ingredients such as salt, baking soda/powder and xanthan gum. Whisk all these ingredients together before adding to the butter mix (in the mixer). Start your mixer very slow at first (on a Viking mixer that would be #2 on the setting knob) to ensure you don’t end up with flour all over your machine and counter. Once the flour is somewhat mixed turn the mixer up to #6 to finish the mix process. Because there is no gluten in the flours, I tend to mix the batter for a minute or two to ensure all the flour is picking up the moisture for the wet ingredients. Then add your pecans.
ROLLING THE DOUGH.
A couple of the recipes I tested rolled the dough out between two pieces of wax paper to avoid adding more flour to the dough (by dusting the rolling table or counter).
I prefer to roll al natural, without wax paper. In my past experiences using wax paper, the paper sometimes creases or bunches up a bit. I spent way too much time fussing with the wax paper.
After baking the cookies I did not detect any serious taste issues due to rolling out the dough al natural (without wax paper).
The recipes varied in oven temperature between 325-350 degrees. I usually use 300 degrees for shortbread. But I followed the instructions for each recipe. At 350 degrees recipe #1 baked in 15 minutes while at 325 degrees recipes 2 and 3 baked in 20 minutes. All cookies were rolled to 1/8th inch.
COOKIES DELIVERED TO TASTERS.
I am in the process of sending samples of these cookie out to 9 of my GF friends. I will post their comments and a great Maple Pecan shortbread that I will create from the best features of tested cookies.
In the meanwhile, please send any questions or comments regarding the information detailed above. Ciao, Glenn