Mahlab Walnut Shortbread
with Pickled Cherry Jam
Makes around 24 cookie sandwiches. Mahlab is the dried pit of the St. Lucie cherry, a dark, sour varietal. The pit makes a slightly floral but spicy powder, reminiscent of dried ginger. It’s best when freshly ground, as the flavor is delicate and nuanced. You can use a mortar and pestle to grind them.
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
scant ¼ cup freshly ground mahlab
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
Combine walnuts, flour, mahlab and salt in a food processor and blend until a cohesive fine meal forms. Set aside.
Using a mixer, beat butter with paddle attachment until smooth and slightly aerated. Add sugar and beat on medium speed for a few minutes, until lighter in color. Make sure to scrape down the sides and along the bottom of the bowl with a spatula, to ensure that all of the sugar is incorporated. Add egg and beat another 1-2 minutes, until the mixture has a nice fluff and sheen to it.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl once again and add in the flour mixture. Mix by hand or on low mixer speed until thoroughly combined.
Dump dough out in equal portions onto two pieces of plastic wrap. Shape each mound into a log about 1.5 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly, twisting both ends. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Once ready to bake, preheat oven to 350ºF. Unwrap and cut dough into ¼ inch slices. Try and keep the widths as consistent as possible, as this will affect baking time.
Place on greased cookie sheet, leaving about 1 inch between cookies. Bake 8-10 minutes, or until just golden. Remove from oven and let cool.
Pickled Sour Cherry Jam
Makes about 2 cups jam.
22 cups pitted sour cherries
1 cup rice wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of one lemon
1 ½ cups coconut sugar (any pale, granulated sugar will do)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
zest of one grapefruit
Let cherries soak with the vinegar and salt for a couple hours or preferably overnight. Drain, reserving ¼ cup of liquid. Chop cherries relatively fine. Place a plate in the freezer. You’ll need this to check the doneness of your jam. Cook in a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat, with the sugar, lemon juice, and reserved vinegar. It will bubble up and simmer quickly. Stir frequently. Once it looks like the mixture is thickening, take a teaspoon or so and smear it on the chilled plate. If the jam can hold the streak of your finger through it and doesn’t run along the plate, you’re ready to go. If not, let the fruit continue to cook and reduce for a few minutes, keeping it at a constant simmer while scraping the bottom of the pot with a spatula or wooden spoon. Continue to check consistency, and remove from heat once it passes the freezer test. You want this jam to end up on the thicker side so that it can hold its shape in the cookie sandwich. Transfer to a separate bowl and cool completely. The jam will be easiest to spread if chilled overnight.
Place all of the paired cookies on their backs, underbellies facing up. A large cutting board or clean countertop works nicely for this. Choose one from every pair and place 1-2 teaspoons of jam in the center. Use a small offset spatula to spread evenly across surface. Top with the remaining half. Smush the two sides together.
Eat on, babies.
Illustration and recipe by Lexie Smith