Recipe: Ras El Hanout Shortbread

My mother makes, hands down, the best shortbread I’ve tasted.  It’s crispy and buttery and really ‘short’, and basically just practically perfect in every way. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that this being the case, I wouldn’t feel the need to mess with it…?

Honestly, I wasn’t going to mess with it at all.  I really, really like it the way it is.  But there I was on Sunday, feeling rather under the weather, and desultorily poking around in my spice collection considering dinner and other things, and my eye fell on the Ras El Hanout.  And – for whatever reason – my brain went, hmm, I wonder how that would taste in a biscuit?

On the face of it, this isn’t too terrible an idea.  Ras El Hanout, for those who are not aware of it, is a Moroccan spice mix that contains, in the version I have, contains ingredients ranging from paprika, cumin and celery to rose petals, cassia, nutmeg, and cardamom.  It’s a sweet-savoury blend that smells so good on its own that it deserves a chance to stand out and be its own thing.

The question was, what sort of biscuit would allow Ras El Hanout to shine?  I spent half an hour looking through my recipe books for things like sugar cookies or gingernuts, which would allow me to substitute in the spices, or just add them, but nothing appealed.  And then my eye fell on my copy of Mum’s (in fact, Oma’s) shortbread recipe… just butter, sugar, flour and rice flour.  Perfectly plain.  Beautifully textured.  If Ras El Hanout was going to work in any sort of sweet biscuit at all, it would work in this one.

And it did.  My biscuits have turned out a little bit ugly – I didn’t expect them to spread so much on cooking, and their texture isn’t quite as good as when Mum makes them – but apart from that, they are a delight: crispy, buttery, almost honeyed in their flavour, and scented with the heady smell of a Moroccan spice shop.  Bliss.

Sorry, Mum.  I’ll make the shortbread properly next time…

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225 g unsalted butter (the cultured, European-style butter works especially well here)
115 g caster sugar
225 g plain flour (if you can, get a low-protein kind, marked as especially for cakes and biscuits rather than a high-protein bread flour)
60 g rice flour
2 tsp Ras el Hanout (I think Gewürzhaus‘s version of this is particularly good)
 

Now what will you do with it?

Pre-heat the oven to 160 °C.

Cream your butter and sugar together until they are paler than when they started.  I’m a bit too lazy to get them quite as pale as they should be… Also, this is one of the few occasions on which I actually use electric beaters, and I do make sure my butter is soft before I start, or it’s a mug’s game trying to get everything creamy.

Add the flour and rice flour, and stir together with a fork, then bring together with your hands and knead lightly.  This should be quite a soft, smooth dough.

I suspect that there should have been a step in the recipe saying to rest the dough at this point, but there wasn’t and I didn’t.  I leave this to your judgment.

Roll the dough out to a bit under 1cm thick, and either pat into a couple of circles, marked out into wedges, or cut into rectangles decorated with fork prints and pricked well with a fork, or cut out into any other shape you like, bearing in mind that they will spread.  Camels would be fun, only my camel cutter is enormous, so perhaps not.

Put on a tray lined with baking paper or a Silpat mat, and bake for about 25 minutes or until just beginning to think about getting golden at the edges.

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Eat, happily.  I feel that serving these with Moroccan mint tea would be a good way to go.

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Variations

This recipe is already egg-free and nut-free.  You could veganise it with a good vegan margarine, but you’d want it to be a very good vegan margarine, as the butter contributes significantly to the taste.  Rumour has it that shortbread works well with most good gluten-free flour mixes, and this would also make the shortbread low-fructose, but if anyone has a specific gluten-free shortbread recipe, I’d love to see it (I’ve seen one that uses chickpea flour, but alas, it didn’t actually work when I tried it).

In terms of flavour, you could go traditional, and make this without the Ras el Hanout.   Or you could swap in vanilla sugar for some of the sugar, and add a teaspoon of cardamom and one of orange zest to the batter – I love that flavour combination!  Indeed, you could do just about anything with this, flavour-wise – I encourage you to experiment!  I’m now wondering how it would work with coconut oil instead of butter – I think one would need to change the method, as it coconut oil tends to be either wholly solid or wholly liquid and never soft, but the flavour could be lovely…

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One year ago: Market Post with Higher Than Usual Levels of Madness
Two years ago: Adventures with Ingredients – Gewürzhaus!
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7 responses to “Recipe: Ras El Hanout Shortbread

  1. Oh, you are clever! I would never think to add this savoury-ish spice to biscuits.

    • Thank you! I have no idea why it occurred to me, but it was a very good inspiration – I really love the way they’ve turned out.

  2. sounds like a crazy idea – am glad it worked!

  3. And you know I mean crazy in the nicest way possible

    • Of course I do! And yes, it was a slightly bizarre inspiration. Of course, now I’m pondering garam masala spekulaas, which is probably a mistake…

  4. I should curse you Cate – I was drooling at your description of the wonderful produce you obtain from various farmers markets in Victoria. As I live in regional NSW my access to these is severely limited. I noticed your mention of the beautiful fruit you obtained from Happy Fruit so I visited their website – $50 later I was eagerly waiting to get my hot and sticky paws on my own version of winter fruit salad. My order finally arrived today and my order of nectarines almost didn’t make it to the kitchen table they are absolutely wonderful. Now I have to order again to replace the nectarines.

    • Evil chuckling seems like the only possible response to this statement…

      (I’m glad you loved the dried fruit, though – those nectarines really are amazing!)

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