My mother, who is 80 years old, and has an apartment in an assisted living building near me, likes me to bring her home made cookies to have with her tea. She used to be quite an inventive cook, but totally lost interest in cooking some time ago. Her residence serves meals in a dining room. Each apartment has a little fridge and microwave, and she has an electric tea kettle, which sees alot of use. But she never cooks. There is a fully equiped kitchen on her floor, in case the residents want to use it...but I have never seen anyone do so.
It is hard for me to understand how someone who used to read cookbooks like fiction, for entertainment, could have given up cooking so entirely. From time to time, I ask her if she'd like me to bring some things over, and do some cooking with her, but she always says, "No thanks."
She has not given up on food, however. I go there often to take her out for a walk to the library, or shopping and a restaurant lunch. Her building is right in the middle of our bustling Squirrel Hill neighborhood, but she is reluctant to cross streets herself, now that she gets confused, doesn't see so well, and walks slowly.
She always peeks in my bag to see if there are cookies. Today I took these, which I like alot with my tea. I hope she will like them; they may seem a lttle odd to her. Her favorites are called "Chinese Chews" and are made from a recipe from her older sister. They are really good, and simple. I will write about them, and about how we lost the recipe and reconstructed it, another time.
I tied these up with a bow, because that way they seem like a present, which she likes. Probably when I go there next time, she will make me a cup of tea, and offer me a cookie. Unless she decides to eat them for breakfast, which she does, from time to time.
If you are as lucky as I am, and have an actual brick and mortar Penzey's Spices right in your neighborhood (!), you can get food quality lavender there. It was not in the catalog last I checked, or on the shelf. You must ask. I don't know why, and neither did the Penzey's guy, who brought it out from behind the counter as if it was embarassing or illegal. Perhaps they will add it to the catalog in time. If you are not quite so smiled upon by Fate, your best bet is a heath food store or new-age or old hippy-type herb shop.
1 stick unsalted butter (get the nicest you can, shortbread is all about butter)
1/4 cup sugar, plus more for dusting
1 cup all purpose flour (preferably King Arthur, it just seems to produce the best results)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt (you're gonna think I'm crazy, but sea salt if possible)
1 tbsp food quality dried lavender
Preheat oven to 350. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the flour, cornstarch and salt, and mix it until it looks like a piecrust just before it comes together. Add the lavender, and mix in gently. Gather up the dough, and squish it together a bit. Put it in an 8" square pan, and smooth it until it is even. I use a dough scraper. Take a fork, and make dotted lines, dividing it into 16 squares. Sprinkle with a little sugar, and bake about 30 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through.They should be only very lightly tinged with gold.
I actually bake these in an earthenware pan, which I find helps to get them thoroughly done, without browning too much. It is a much loved Emile Henry Artisan Series pan, which I got on sale. This line does not seem to sell very well for them, and is often reduced. It is made to look like their 19th century ware. It therefore resembles alot of drip glazed inexpensive pottery, and perhaps this discourages some buyers of high end stuff. It is made by a techique called "estampage", which "involves laying by hand a layer of soft clay over a plaster mold of the final shape," which "gives it it's authentic look." It has all the wonderful magical qualities of the Emile Henry Burgundian clay, which means that it takes temperature extremes like a trooper, is easy to clean, and can even be used on a gas stovetop, with a flame tamer. And personally, I think it is very pretty.
Once you have removed the shortbread from the oven, you sprinkle on a bit more sugar, and put the pan on a cooling rack. If you cut the squares before they cool, along the lines, with a very sharp knife, once they cool, you will have no trouble taking them out of the pan. As you can see, I have used some very silly purple and silver sanding sugar left over from a Mardi Gras cake debacle. Generally, I use regular sugar, which is more sedate. Some people will make fun of you for "eating flowers" even if you do not use silly sugar.