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The Sassy Sandpiper: Kitchen Alchemy

Wilson | Sassy Sandpiper | Columnist

The Sassy Sandpiper reflects on the magic of baking.

By M.R. Wilson, TB Reporter

Yesterday I baked Scottish Shortbread. I know the recipe by heart, passed down on my mother’s side of the family for three generations. The list of original ingredients and directions are written in Granny’s fine hand, in pencil on yellowed notebook paper heavily creased and slightly tattered.

I used my great grandmother’s mixing bowl and felt a deep connection to this remarkable woman, Betty Smith Kronberg, Nebraska homesteader. She likely made the little flour sack apron I almost forgot to wear, but rushed to the closet to retrieve.

Baking is history.

Sassy Sandpiper | M.R. Wilson | Columns  Sassy Sandpiper | M.R. Wilson | Columns

Choosing to dismiss what I know about white flour, refined sugar and dairy, I reflected instead on the simplicity of four components: a cup of butter, 3⁄4 cup of sugar, 2 3⁄4 cups of flour, one egg yolk. That’s it.

First, blend the softened butter with the sugar until creamy. “Add egg yolk and beat until smooth. Add the flour and stir until just blended.”

I get my hands into it now and do the kneading in the bowl itself. I feel like a kid squishing Play-Doh® through her fingers.

This is an important step, getting the dough soft and elastic. It seemed a little tacky. I added a wee bit more flour; then some more, until it felt right.

Baking is intuitive.

At last you push the dough into a 9 inch by 13 inch, “and pat down evenly. Prick with a fork.”

I like to make patterns but straight up and down works just fine.

The recipe calls for an hour’s baking time “in a slow oven (325 degrees),” but with today’s more efficient appliances, it takes about 35 minutes. The shortbread should be a very light golden brown. A sniff tells me it’s almost done. When it comes to cooking, I trust my olfactory sense. The nose knows.

“Cut in 1 1⁄2-inch squares while hot.”

This particular batch of Scottish shortbread was destined to be the foundation of my first Hallothankmas treats.

“Omgwhatizit?” It looked like an edible jigsaw puzzle: shortbread piled high with miniature M&Ms, pieces of dried fruit, Dr. Pepper “licorice,” marshmallows, candy corn, miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups, all drizzled with melted caramel.

Sassy Sandpiper | M.R. Wilson | Columns

Baking is creative.

I don’t often eat such things, mind you. The sugar rush felt like a bolt to the brain. Oh, my word. I know better. And I plan to assemble more “Whatizits” with the leftover shortbread.

(It amazes me that people knowingly poison themselves by consuming “treats” full of artificial, carcinogenic, unpronounceable chemicals all in “celebration.” But we do; glassy-eyed and delirious, we do.)

Baking is fun.

Of course, I share.

Baking is love.

Baking is connection and history. It’s creative, intuitive, and fun. Done right, it turns to gold.

Photos courtesy of M.R. Wilson.

The Sassy Sandpiper | M.R. Wilson | Baking | Cooking | Shortbread | TB Reporter

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