Monday, 18 April 2011

Salty Goodness - Salty Shortbread, with Lemon and Thyme

I'm a simple soul who likes home and locally grown food, not only to be 'green', but also to get my little mitts on the best produce possible. But when I saw two jars of hand-harvested sea-salt from the Pacific on an Online Bake Sale to raise money for Second Harvest for Japan (from Linda at Salty Seattle), my morals went out of the window and I couldn't resist bidding high and making a purchase. The little white crystals may have had to travel far in their glass jars and bubble wrap blankets, but they made it safe and sound on Friday, just crying out to be sprinkled, pinched and shook onto my food. Does the donation wipe out the food miles? I hope so.

So I took a little time to think about some recipes in which these tangy crystals, that taste like nothing I know (thanks to a childhood of Saxa Salt), could star in. It had to be something that celebrated salt in it's own right, not just uses it to develop the taste of other ingredients. Something that would allow you to celebrate it's health giving qualities, not shy away from it, as we've been trained to do with the constant health scares of this precious mineral.

While I'm here, I might as well get on my high horse about this.  

There is no doubt that too much salt is bad for you - but too much of anything isn't great!.  Salt is one of the most important minerals to humans and animals - we just can't function without it. We're mostly water, but do you realise, we are mostly salt water? Each little cell is like a salty ocean in itself, which exchanges incoming energy with outgoing depleted energy. Without the salt in our cells, our energy would cease to exist. Yet we have become terrified of what this mineral will do to our bodies.  We only really know salt through past generations attempting to make over-boiled cabbage and badly reared chicken taste like something we'd want to eat.  And we wonder why Britain had a bad food rep.

But we aren't there anymore!  We don't need to mask our food with salt!  We don't need to bring out what little flavour we had with heaped teaspoons of the cheap stuff!  With the quality of our food getting better and better, the best it's ever been in fact, we can begin to celebrate salt, use it with respect, in it's own right as an ingredient again - heck, the main ingredient, if you please!  And we can save the Saxa to clearing the ice on our front paths (well, some things never change).

Sea salt is so special that you don't need a lot of it to be smacked with the tangy, almost spicy taste, so a sprinkling a little here and there is all that is needed, and you can buy the better, more expensive stuff if you need less (I won't tell you how much mine cost - but it was for charideee). Let's celebrate the Bake Sale for Japan, and this little condiment that does so much more for us than stop our greens being tasteless when over-boiled.  

I baked these savoury shortbread in a leap of faith, with it's sprinkling of sea salt resting on the dough as if they were the rocks it was formed on.

And I did use thyme from my garden.  Green points there then.

Savoury Salt Shortbread, with Lemon and Thyme.

  • 280g plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • Finely grated zest 1 lemon
  • 1-2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
  • 160g unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks, mixed with one large egg and 2 teaspoons water.
  • Fantastic quality sea salt/rock salt

1. In a large bowl, mix in the flour, salt, lemon zest and thyme, before rubbing the butter in wit your fingertips to create a yellow, rocky, crumbly mix.

2. Make a well in the middle and add all of the egg mixture, reserving 1 tbsp for washing with later. Using your hands, bring the mixture together.  It may still be a little crumbly; if so, turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until it comes together.

3. Pat into a round about an inch thick, wrap in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge until firm, about 30 minutes.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle, trimming the sides and cut into fingers - mine were about 4inches by half an inch.  Place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment, brush with the remaining egg.

5. Sprinkle the fingers with a little salt on each (you may want to try the salt before - my hand-harvested salt is very strong, so I only needed a little), and bake at 180 degrees centigrade until the shortbread is golden.

6. Leave to cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

These lovely shortbread fingers are great served on their own with drinks, with hummus or other dips, or just as a snack.  Perhaps you could try cutting the dough into circles as a base for canap├ęs - let me know your ideas.


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