Whenever we have guests at the Food52 office for a meeting, we like to give them a warm welcome with freshly made coffee, some flowers, and a (sometimes wobbly) vintage chair to sit on.
For special guests, though, our power move is to pick up baked goods from some of our favorite shops in the city. We get kouign amann from Chanson when we’re in the mood for a single show-stopper, and chocolate chip cookies from Seven Grams, when we’re going for simple and confident.
When it’s time to go all out, we stop at Bien Cuit and order pretty much everything. They make the crispiest, yeastiest, most adorable mini baguettes, which we serve with salted butter and jam. We also love their gluten free chocolate scones and golden-sheathed croissants, and we always—always—get a few of their sugar-crusted shortbread, which are part cookie, part laminated pastry: buttery, salty, and though pebbled with sugar, not too sweet. In truth, we’ve been known to steer our very important guests away from the shortbread—in the direction of the other tasty bits— just so we get to eat them post meeting.
This shortbread scheme had been going on for a few years, until last week, when everything changed. There, on the meeting table sat our VIP pastry spread, sans our beloved shortbread. My heart stopped. Where were they? Had they run out? Had they been forgotten?
The news was worse still: Bien Cuit, we learned, had stopped making them.
There was only one solution: I had to get the recipe. And as a self-serving writer hoping to get others to support her cause, I tweeted at Bien Cuit and begged them to bring the shortbread back. On Twitter, Bien Cuit held firm, but they did offer to share the recipe.
Dear @BienCuitBakery -- We've been told that you stopped making your shortbread -- the shortbread that we'd fight over in our office. That I'd hold onto as an end-of-day treat of crumbly, buttery goodness. You can't do this to us! Please reconsider. Yours truly, Amanda
When I received it, I was skeptical. So much can go awry when scaling down a recipe from a bakery-sized batch. Their recipe called for more than a pound of butter and flour; a calculator was called in. I halved the recipe and made the dough, which has a few odd but necessary twists. First, instead of rolling out the dough, you spread it on a parchment lined baking sheet—just a good, smooth layer. Next you chill it overnight. And last, you bake it at a low temperature—300°F—for an hour and 15 minutes! Sure that I’d have a tray of burned shortbread, I checked it after 30 minutes. It was still the color of butter. As promised, the full baking time was required.
Not only was the long baking time unusual yet effective, but I found that spreading the dough in the pan and cutting the shortbread after baking (techniques clearly geared toward the efficiency of a bakery) speeds up the technique and creates an uber flaky layered dough that’s crisp enough to shatter and delicate inside. My kids, who generally scoff at any cookie lacking chocolate chips, lit up when they ate them.
Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.