April 16, 2008

Salty Chocolate Shortbread

If you're a fan of the combination of chocolate + salt, this is the cookie for you. It's deeply chocolaty, not too sweet, and very salty. Use a fine-grain sea salt for a uniform saltiness, or a more coarse grain for little nuggets of salt in every bite.

The only major change I made from the original recipe was to omit the cacao nibs it called for, because I didn't have any. And while I'm sure the nibs would give a great flavor and texture, the cookie is fantastic without them. No need to get too fancy.

Chocolate Shortbread with Sea Salt

adapted from Essence of Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg

5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour

2 1/2 ounces (3/4 cup) cocoa powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

6 ounces (12 tablespoons) butter, room temperature

3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Mix the flour and cocoa powder in a bowl.

2. In another bowl or in a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together for about 5 minutes until light colored and fluffy.

3. Add in the vanilla.

4. Add half of the flour-chocolate mixture and combine on low speed. Add the rest of the mixture and mix until just incorporated.

5. Add in the salt and mix to combine.

At this point the dough can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. But if you want to finish the cookies now, no refrigeration is necessary.

6. Baking: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper to 1/4-inch thickness.

8. Using cookie cutters or a plain old knife, cut the dough into whatever shape you want. Sprinkle a few grains of coarse sea salt on top of a few cookies if you want to get crazy.

9. Place the shapes on the prepared sheets and bake for 15 minutes, rotating halfway. The shortbread should be slightly firm but not hard.

Let cool on wire racks.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up a week. The texture is best on the day of baking, but the chocolate flavor deepens after a few days.

April 7, 2008

Garum and Gourmet

Roman mosaic from Tunisia, 3rd-5th century A.D.

I'd like to point you in the direction of two few brief, not fantastic, but nevertheless interesting articles by Robert Sietsema on gourmet.com in a series entitled "Eat like a Roman". The first is about garum, a favorite condiment of the Romans.

What exactly is garum? Let's consult an ancient expert: "Another liquid, too, of a very exquisite nature, is that known as 'garuim:' it is prepared from the intestines of fish and various parts which would otherwise be thrown away, macerated in salt; so that it is, in fact, the result of their putrefaction" (Pliny the Elder, a 1st century C.E. author, from his Natural History 31.43, trans. Bostock and Riley).


The sauce was typically prepared in facilities near the sea from freshly caught fish, which were left to ferment in the sun for several months, then the resulting product was bottled and exported. While garum was produced all over the Mediterranean, certain regions were known for the quality of their garum- Spain, for instance was known to have a particularly good product. Quality was judged by region of production, type of fish used, and length of fermentation, and higher quality often meant higher price- although widely available at a range of prices, the good stuff could be very expensive.

Garum production tanks at Baelo Claudia (Spain)

In the gourmet.com article, the author happens across a bottle of something labeled "garum" at his local Italian market and decides to give it a shot (although whether the product he bought is the same thing as the ancient condiment is up for debate). He aptly describes the scent of the sauce as "like being swatted across the nose with a dead crab", but then, confoundingly, goes on to add it to everything he eats, including his morning coffee...what on earth possessed him to do this is beyond me.

In the second article, he goes on to actually cook a variety of "ancient Roman" dishes with the garum, with mixed results.

There are much better resources and writings about ancient Roman cuisine out there- I'll try to round some up and post them sometime in the near future (suggestions welcome). But it's always fun and very interesting to see modern-day people attempt to witness and understand aspects of life in the past, especially through the strange cultural expression that is food.