On my prep list today were mignardises, those little bites that come with the check to help sweeten the blow. Usually we do some sort of miniature cookies or chocolates, just one for each person. I personally love these tiny treats but have been daunted by them at many fine dining restaurants. The problem is that by the time they arrive I am sated and thus face the options of missing out or making myself sick. Frankly, most people look at you oddly if you ask to take them home and unfortunately these beautiful little indulgences often don't live up to the hype. There's nothing worse than giving yourself a stomachache for something that tastes like sawdust.
One of the first things that I did this morning was pull out some butter to soften to room temperature. I do this almost every day because it always comes in handy sooner or later. Today was no exception as the butter on the counter drew my mind to shortbread. Pancakes earlier in the week left maple syrup on my mind, which of course led to Vermont, New England, johnneycakes, and then cornmeal. Truthfully, my mind almost always wanders in that particular direction, but today I was inclined to follow it. Shortbread seemed like a good mignardises for tonight's menu.
Normally I would use maple sugar but we were all out, so I decided to play with the syrup and see what happened. It was early enough to change gears if it didn't work out. I started whipping my butter in the mixer and drizzled in some cold syrup. It took some time to come together, at least partially becuase I used cold syrup, and although it finally started to get light and creamy there was still some definite separation of butter and syrup. The final bits did not want to come together. Frowning slightly I glanced around the room and noticed the bin of sugar. Perfect, the additional graininess could be just what was needed to homogenize things. I added a few tablespoons and things came together as planned.
I figured that I would need about 2 1/2 cups of flour for the amount of butter I was using. Normally I would use 2 1/4 cups but with the extra maple syrup I decided to go with a bit more. I substituted 1/2 a cup of cornmeal for flour and threw in a 1/2 teaspoon of salt for flavor. I mixed the dry ingredients together and added it all to the fluffy, sweet butter. Once the dough formed, I wrapped it, chilled it and let it rest for half an hour. An old kitchen trick is to flatten out the dough before chilling to make things easier when the time comes to roll it out. I rolled the dough out to about a 1/4 inch and cut out my cookies to the size of a quarter. Baked them at a 300°F convection for about 6 minutes until they were golden brown. Once they were cool they were delicate with a grainy, crispy crunch from the cornmeal and the slightly nutty, aromatic sweetness of the maple. It was a complex mouthful for such a small bite, and the perfect ending to one of our meals.
Maple Cornmeal Shortbread
8 ounces sweet butter (we use Strauss Organic)
1/2 cup grade B maple syrup
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
Whip butter with syrup and sugar until light and fluffy. Combine fours and salt and add to butter mixture. Stir until just blended. Flatten out dough, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes. Roll our dough and cut into desired shapes. Bake at 300°F convection or 325°F oven until golden brown (approximately 6 minutes for 1/4 inch thickness, adjust as necessary for larger cookies).