Like Clotilde, I decided to start with sables, or shortbread cookies, thinking that the cookies are so plain they’d really be able to show off the nuance of roasted flour. In reading Gagniare, This and Dusoulier, I learned that when the flour is roasted, its chemical properties change. I skipped out of chemistry classes (did I ever mention that I took Math for Poets and Science for Poets in college?), so this stuff flew over my head, but what I did reason was that if I roasted the flour in the oven, I’d dry it out and so I might have to make some adjustments in my recipe.
In my first test, not sure how the flour would react after being roasted, I decided to put only three-quarters of the flour in the oven. I spread the flour out on a baking sheet lined with parchment and put it in a 350-degree-F oven for 20 minutes, turning the flour every 5 minutes (a job I did quite efficiently with a table knife). After that time, the flour was warm, but uncolored and the house smelled toasty. I made the dough – I couldn’t resist tinkering, so I actually created a new recipe for this – chilled it, rolled it out and baked it.
The result? A really nice shortbread cookie. The jury’s opinion? Not worth the extra effort of roasting the flour.
Undaunted, I went back to the oven and, in a very unscientific move, changed two things (a no-no in experimentation, where one change at a time is the rule): I decided to roast all of the recipe’s flour and I decided to roast it longer.
Round two, I roasted the flour for 25 minutes and was surprised how much of a difference those few extra minutes made. The flour turned slightly beige and it was almost smoky when the buzzer went off.
The result this time? A cookie with a lot of flavor. Would you know that the flour had been toasted? Probably not. And who’d leap to that conclusion unprompted? Might you think that the cookie was made with a full-flavored wheat flour? I think so. Would you love the cookie? I did. And so did my jury, at least those among them who like their cookies well-baked – oh, and firm enough to break with a snap.
Whether you roast the flour or not, I hope you’ll like this recipe for a crisp shortbread.
ROASTED-FLOUR SHORTBREAD HEARTS
Makes about 40 cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
Sanding or granulated sugar, for dusting (optional)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Spread the flour out on the baking sheet, keeping a bare border of a few inches around the perimeter of the sheet. Roast the flour for 5 minutes, pull the baking sheet out of the oven and stir the flour using a table knife or a heatproof spatula. Return the baking sheet to the oven and continue to roast the flour, stirring every 5 minutes, for another 20 minutes – the total roasting time is 25 minutes. After 25 minutes and 4 stirrings, the flour should be beige or beige-ish, and it might even smoke around the edges. Turn the flour into a mixing bowl and let it cool down. Turn off the oven – you won’t need it for a while.
I like to make shortbread cookies like these in a food processor, but you can work with a mixer (hand or stand) or even a wooden spoon, the method remains the same (understanding that when I say pulse and/or process, you’ll be beating or stirring). Cut the butter into a few chunks and put it into the work bowl of the processor. Process until it’s smooth, then add the sugar and the salt. Work the mixture until it’s once again smooth and creamy. (You want the ingredients to be homogenous, but you don’t want the mixture to be light and airy.) Add the egg and process until smooth.
Measure out 2 cups of the roasted flour (I had you roast a little more than you needed so you wouldn’t have to worry about scraping every last speck of it off the baking sheet). Add the flour all at once to the work bowl pulse and process until the dough forms large curds that hold together when pinched. You don’t want to process so long that the dough forms a ball on the blade.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead it gently, just so that it comes together. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a disk.
Working with one packet of dough at a time, put the dough between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and roll it into a 1/4-inch-thick circle. Slide the dough, still between the paper or wrap, onto a cutting board and put it into the freezer to firm for about an hour. Alternately, you can keep the circles in the refrigerator for several hours.
When you’re ready to cut and bake the cookies, position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Again working with one round of dough at a time, use cutters to cut out cookies (mine was a 1 3/4-inch diameter heart-shaped cookie cutter). Cut out as many cookies as you can from the first circle, keep the cookies in the fridge or in a cool spot while you cut cookies from the second packet of dough (of course, you can bake just one sheet at a time). Combine the scraps, put them between paper or wrap, roll them 1/4-inch thick and chill before cutting and baking. Dust the tops of the cookies with sugar, if you’d like.
Bake the cookies 13 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheets front to back and top to bottom at the midway point, until the cookies are golden brown and slightly firm to the touch (they’ll still be a bit fragile). Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the cookies rest on the sheet a few minutes before transferring them to racks to cool to room temperature.
Stored in a covered container at room temperature, the cookies will keep for about 4 days.