Monday, February 7, 2011

Fennel Pine Nut Shortbread Cookies

While I was making these cookies, it hit me: this was the exact flavor I was used to smelling when I would eat cookies from an authentic Italian bakery back in Chicago-land! In high school I was friendly with our mayor's daughter (both the mayor and his kids were absolutely terrific, salt-of the earth people, but I digress) and her family owned the Gonnella Baking company. I was fortunate enough to have Italian class with Flavia, who graced us with cookies from her family's great bakery. The smell of fennel has transported me to memories of going to the Nutcracker and eating at Italian Village.....But it's also the smell that can often you like a heavy wave when you walk into a bakery in Napoli or Venezia or's ITALY and it's wonderful......!!!!!!

Now that I saw some of the awesome looking recipes on their website, I'll be visiting again. Gonella makes great bread!!! I encourage you to try it if you're ever in the Chicago area.

In the meantime, I'd like to encourage you to try these amazing, light, tender-crisp cookies. If all you know of fennel is to think of licorice, then you need to get out more. And experiment. I used my coffee grinder to grind up the fennel seeds I had in my pantry. But, I think you can find fennel in the spice aisle. The earthiness of the pine nuts is balanced with the sophistication of the fennel and the creaminess of the butter. Your first bite will make you do a double-take.

Even though I don't consider Giada a TRUE italian cook, she has some amazing recipes with which I've had much success. Thank you, Giada. I doubled the recipe as suggested by all the raving reviews. These cookies are not very sweet. A perfect end to a meal with a cup of coffee. Or with a glass of moscato or even with tea for an afternoon snack.

Adapted from FoodNetwork's Giada De Laurentiis

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies (double the recipe-you can always freeze the dough until ready to use)

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup pine nuts--often called pignoli (I think I used slightly more)

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, fennel seed, and salt in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add the flour and mix just until blended.

Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap. Shape the dough into an 8-inch-long log. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line heavy large baking sheets with a silpat or parchment paper. Cut the dough log crosswise into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick slices. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets, spacing evenly apart.

Press the pine nuts decoratively atop the cookies. Bake until the cookies are golden around the edges, about 15 minutes.

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