True, I've rolled out quite a few porcini recipes this winter. But can you blame me? Last summer I collected four times more Boletus edulis, aka porcini, mushrooms than any previous year. I have my friend Jennifer to thank. You see, she understood very quickly upon meeting that I was obsessed with mushrooms. And by obsessed, I don't mean that I merely look forward to finding mushrooms. I mean that when I speak of mushrooms, my eyes dilate and drool flies, causing people to take a step back in terror.
Since Jen is an avid outdoor enthusiast and lives in the same area of the mountains where porcini grow, we joined forces. I told her what sort of environment the mushrooms favored, and she drew from her vast trail knowledge to target several areas of interest. Turns out that our collaboration was more fruitful than either of us could have imagined. Not only that, once she knew what porcini looked like, she turned out to be expert at spotting them, thus earning the nickname, porcini piggie.
On the trail, Jen and I are the synchronized swimmers of the mushroom-hunting world, each able to follow the other's gaze to a suspected porcini, or work in perfect unison to throw down bakcpacks and fake a photo op in order to distract other mushroomers on the path. In the kitchen, we are a study in contrasts. In fact, we are Felix and Oscar, the Odd Couple reincarnated.
When it comes to cooking (and life), Jennifer is a scientist to the core. She is neat, ordered, follows recipes, and admires precision and control. She is a studied and outstanding cook. To understand more about her approach, I recommend this article from Scientific American, where she talks about how science translates into the kitchen.
Me, on the other hand.... well, frankly, I'm the slob. I'm Oscar. I tornado through the kitchen, leaving overturned containers, stains, and burnt oven mitts in my wake. I'm pathologically incapable of using recipes. My dishes are a form of art, something sculpted through responsiveness and whim.
The beauty of it is that neither Felix nor Oscar is wrong. Cooking is elevated by both technicians and trailblazers. We approach food from entirely different angles, yet somehow manage to meet in the middle with mutual respect, unified in our belief that taste is king (and a love of porcini, bien sur).
So I present to you Porcini Shortbread, a crumbly buttery cookie made deep and mysterious by mushrooms. Don't run away in fear! The porcini flavor is subtle. I've resisted the urge to add other weird ingredients like black pepper or pine needles (such restraint!), and have let the porcini stand alone as the highlight of this recipe. If you don't tell a person the secret ingredient, they can't guess. But once they know, they sniff the cookie again, smack their lips and say, "ooooh, ok, now I get it." These cookies are a treat for people who aren't crazy about sweets, as the mushrooms ground them and make them just right to savor with a dark cup of tea or coffee.
6 oz. butter, room temp
3 oz. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 oz. dried porcini mushroom powder*
7 oz. flour or gluten-free flour blend**
1. Using a stand or hand mixer, whip the butter until it is fluffy.
2. Add in the sugar and vanilla, and continue to beat the mixture until it has gone light and airy.
3. Pour in the mushroom powder, and make certain it is well incorporated.
4. Finally, add the flour. Incorporate it at a low speed just until the mixture resembles wet chunks of dirt.
5. Pour the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, and use your hands to press the crumbs into a ball. Wrap the dough ball in the plastic, and refrigerate it for an hour.
6. Roll out the dough to 1/2". It will want to crack and crumble a bit. Just smush it back together with your fingers. Cut out small rounds (or whatever shape floats your boat), and place them on a baking sheet. No need to leave a lot of room between the cookies, because they don't spread.
7. Poke the tops of the raw cookies with a fork. The tiny holes help steam to escape.
8. Bake the porcini shortbread cookies for 15 minutes at 325 degrees (F). The cookies should only take on the tiniest bit of color. Cool the baked cookies on a rack, so that the air circulates around them.
*To make porcini powder, simply buzz up dried porcini slices in a spice grinder.
**I used about equal amounts of sorghum and rice flours.
Many thanks to my friend Fairyface. I loosely based this recipe upon the one she uses. Being a Scot, she knows her shortbread!