I am ready for the summer to begin… or at least the spring! What’s with the hail and icy winds in Coventry… in May?!? Waaah! Where’s the sun?
So here I’ve baked a little something to try and remind myself of the summer: figgy, lemon shortbread.
Figs and lemons remind me of the mediterranean and the sun. I ate an abundance of both when I was in Turkey. It must have been the right season or something. And last summer, my friends and I picked sun-ripened figs on the sea-side town of Baynuls-sur-Mer, and snacked on the delicious fruits the entire week that we were there. To be honest, I think that Jenny tired of them towards the end, but Sarah and I couldn’t get enough of them. Unless you grow the figs yourself, I’ve yet to buy fresh figs in the UK that taste remotely like the sun-ripened variety.
There’s a couple of lemon and fig cookie recipes out there, but I’ve yet to come across any recipes that combine the two together in a shortbread. When I was thinking up with this recipe, I toyed with the idea of adding another flavour to it, like cardoman or black pepper. I didn’t add any this time round, but I rather like the idea of experimenting with some finely-chopped fresh rosemary or dried lavender. Having baked and tested them out on my students and colleagues, I think that the two flavours work rather well together in a shortbread. The flavours aren’t overpowering and the end result is a bit more of a delicate, crumble/melt-in-your-mouth experience. It’s really interesting asking my colleagues for their feedback on what flavour hits them first, the lemon or the fig. The consensus is that it’s a rather subjective experience.
So, let’s get on with this recipe. It’s a really easy one to make. Two things to prep the night before. 1. Take out the butter so that it’s soft. 2. Put the figs in a bowl and cover with some water so that they’re plumped up. I adapted Fiona’s shortbread recipe, to come up with my own figgy, lemon shortbread. This time I substituted some of the cornflour for semolina. I was improvising, to be honest, because I ran out of cornflour in the middle of measuring out the ingredients. But why semolina? A friend of mine had mentioned the use of semolina in a shortbread before, so it wasn’t an entirely new idea. I thought that it would add a bit of bite and crunch to the shortbread and I think, I think, I think that it does. Give it a go and tell me what you think.
Top tip: When it comes to making shortbread, use real butter and always take it out the fridge the night before to soften. If you try and cheat to soften the butter by zapping it in the microwave and causing it to melt, you’ll affect the baking process. The end result is a biscuit that splays out all over the place when it’s baking in the oven giving it a harder, brittle texture.
Ingredients for my Figgy, Lemon Shortbread. I used 5cm cutters and produced about 55 pieces of shortbread.
- 250g salted butter, softened and cubed
- 100g golden caster sugar
- zest of one lemon
- 100-115g chopped dried figs
- 250g plain flour
- 75g cornflour
- 50g fine semolina (if you don’t have semolina then use cornflour, so in total you’re using 125g cornflour)
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F/ gas mark 3. Line a few metal baking sheet with baking paper. Put the dried figs in a bowl and cover them with boiling water for at least 15 minutes to plump them up. I left them overnight and then chopped them up really finely with my pampered chef food chopper. I think that you could experiment with how finely (or not) you’d like your figs to be.
2. In a big bowl, cream together the sugar and the butter, then add the lemon zest. Finally add in the chopped, dried figs. I use an electric mixer, but if you don’t have one, then beat it together with a wooden spoon.
3. Measure out the flour, cornflour and semolina in another bowl. Then sift the dry ingredients into the sugar and butter in 4 batches. I add it in batches to make sure that the flour doesn’t fly out the bowl. Combine well until it’s a sticky mixture.
4. At this point, it’s best to flour your hands before gently kneading the mixture until it is combined into a smooth texture. I forgot this bit and ended up with sticky fingers. It’s important not to overwork the mixture because it will make it a tougher, less crumbly biscuit. Once it has reached that just smooth texture, then wrap it up in a piece of clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This will make it easier to roll out later.
5. Roll out the shortbread mixture on a floured worktop so that it’s about 0.5-1cm thick. I like to use a glass chopping board and have a large piece of clingfilm between my rolling pin and the mixture. I think that it makes it an altogether cleaner operation. No bits of dough sticking to the rolling pin, and less flour flying everywhere.
6. I then used 5cm round and daisy-shaped cutters to create my cookies. Maximise the space on the dough. Roll up what’s left and start again. I may be wrong, but I found that the biscuit is a bit tougher when I roll out the dough a second and third time. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve baked them in the oven for a bit longer accidentally or what… so I’ll keep comparing.
One of my colleagues asked me to bake a larger piece of shortbread next time… like you get on the pettitcoat tails. I’ll try another time and let you know how that turns out.
7. Place them on sheets of greaseproof or baking paper and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, turning them round half-way through baking. They will be a light golden colour when they’re done, like the colour of golden caster sugar, rather than a darker brown, like the colour of demerara sugar. Take them out the oven and immediately sprinke some granulated or demerara sugar on them. Leave them to cool for a few minutes on the tray before transferring the shortbread onto a wire rack to cool completely. Put them in an airtight container and they’ll probably last
3-4 days. Monica assures me that they’ll keep for a month.
These ones that I baked have pretty much all gone within 24 hours. I took some freshly baked shortbread to my students to test it out on their discerning tastebuds. I don’t know whether they were just being nice, but here are their thoughts on the recipe:
“It’s like shortbread.” (10/10!)
“I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“They just melt in your mouth.”
“Maybe a bit more lemon and fig, but I like my biscuits to be really fruity.” – if you think that this would be you, then add a bit more lemon zest and try chopping the figs into bigger chunks to see whether that helps.
I await to hear your verdict.