A tale of two shortbreads

Sometimes just the smell of something baking brings back memories.

Gavin Smith's shortbread with rye flour. — Gavin Smith

Every year around the holidays my father would dig through the cupboards for his hefty ceramic shortbread molds. He carefully made dozens of shortbreads and portioned them into decorative tins for friends and family. Even after he moved down to Georgia, people would anxiously wait for the package of shortbread to arrive. When it was shipped or moved around from house to house, the crumbles would fall to the bottom; I always loved scraping the little bits of buttery shortbread out of the bottom of every tin.

As a chef I am always looking for ways to grow, and am in constant pursuit of innovative techniques and interesting new flavors. But sometimes it is the simplest of pleasures that bring the most joy. A smell or flavor can spark a memory so intense that it brings you back to another time and place. My dad’s shortbread is never too far from my mind, and has inspired me to create a version of my own.

Over the years I have made it my mission to use local products as much as possible, not because it is trendy to “eat local,” but because this Island is brimming with seriously amazing food. I am a private chef who serves different clients almost every day. That means different menus every day, so I began making regular visits to Island farms and the Farmers Market when I started my business. One afternoon, I was at Mermaid Farm’s booth at the West Tisbury Farmers Market when I realized there was Lost and Found wheat and rye flour from the Island sitting right in front of me. After discovering that grains are milled on the Island, my first step was to bake breads with it, but I wanted to do more. When I attended one of John Thurgood’s M.V. Wine Fest dinners several years ago, he incorporated a rye flour “cracker” that immediately brought me back to my own childhood.

I am a big fan of custard-like desserts, but feel they often need a bit of texture for balance. As I searched for the perfect bite to accompany a panna cotta, it suddenly dawned on me that I could put the rye flour cracker and the shortbread of my childhood together for a new, yet nostalgic crunch. I put together a simple rye flour shortbread, and crumbled it into little bits to sprinkle over the panna cotta. The same crumbly bits that I coveted as a child were now part of a refined dish.

I have since taken the basic shortbread and started incorporating cardamom brown butter, local honey, and other interesting flavors. This simple recipe is very easy to put together, and leaves a lot of room for creativity. I often bake these shortbreads as a large sheet cookie and break it apart, but it can be cut into shapes with a cookie cutter before baking if you prefer a more finished look. Top them with frosting, infuse the butter with herbs, or sprinkle in some maple sugar to make it your own. Crumble it on yogurt, serve with coffee, or add it to a beet salad for a little sweetness. I made some at a friend’s house recently, and it was eaten so fast it never made it onto a plate.

Rye Shortbread

1 cup butter
2 Tbsp. local honey
½ cup cane sugar
¾ tsp. salt (Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt)
1¾ cup rye flour (Lost and Found Rye Sifted)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking powder

Cream butter, honey, sugar, and salt. Sift flours and baking powder over the creamed butter and mix until consistent dough forms. If the mixture is too soft to roll, wrap it tightly and put it in the refrigerator until it is workable.

Roll the dough out onto a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake at 375° until edges brown (check after 10-12 minutes).

Gavin Smith is the chef and owner of Food Minded Fellow private chef services. To find more information and recipes, visit foodmindedfellow.com.