How To Make Shortbread Without a Recipe

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I don’t know many recipes by heart. Not even the apple pie that I find myself making more than enough times a year. I’ve got key lime pie and this shortbread, and that’s about it.

But does it count if you don’t technically need a recipe? Or measuring cups? Or really even a pan? Because if you’ve got flour, oil, powdered sugar, a flat baking surface, and a working oven, you’ve got shortbread. The end.

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I feel as if I’ve done a fair bit of moving and traveling in the past year, enough so that I’ve found myself in a number of kitchens that were woefully understocked, either in ingredients, utensils, or both. Which is how this shortbread even came about, striking as inspiration when I found myself alone in a town in Bulgaria for a week with nothing but flour, sugar, oil, and a tiny oven (that I would later go on to break by setting on fire, but that’s another story). There’s no measuring required, which is why it works out so well for anyone who finds themselves abroad with nothing but a trendy little scale with which to measure. Just a cup or small bowl, any size, and you’re good to go.

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The key to this recipe is the ratio. 3 parts flour, 1 part powdered sugar, and 1 part oil. It can be any kind of flour. Any variety of oil. Any sized measuring device. It doesn’t matter; you’ll still wind up with shortbread.

Shortbread that, it’s fair to say, isn’t exactly up the usual wholesome standard of recipes around here. But the oil, while plentiful, can be one with healthy fats. The flour can be whole grain. The sugar… well, there’s going to be a lot of sugar, and that’s that.

This shortbread was the first thing I made in the new house I moved into here in Chapel Hill. I had measuring cups. There were plenty of pans. The grocery store and an infinite supply of ingredients was just a short drive away. I could have made anything. But I’ve carried this recipe with me, and it’s one I’ve made countless times in countless kitchens in countless cities. So it only seemed right that I would bring it to this home too.

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Chewy Lemon Almond Cookies

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There are some recipes that I come across and immediately know that I have to make within the next 24 hours, even if it means an emergency run to the grocery store. These genius sugar cookies are a prime example. Then there are others that I see, fall in love with, and then…nothing. They sit there, in the back of my mind or on a To Bake list, as newer, cooler recipes come along and push those once shining ideas into the recesses of my brain until I’ve completely forgotten about them and they are no more.

That was, unfortunately, the original fate of these almond cookies, a beautifully enticing recipe that I came across sometime during high school chemistry class, vowed to make, and then waited for way too many years before finally rediscovering them and once again placing them at the forefront of my baking agenda.

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These cookies are made with almond paste (not marzipan, there’s a difference), and as a result are so almondy that it’s almost ridiculous. In the best way possible. And because some things, usually almond related, are never truly great until paired with a bit of lemon tang, there’s lemon zest added to the batter as well. It’s the kind of recipe where a few ingredients allows the strongest components to shine, and as a result these are deeply flavorful cookies with the perfect amount of chew and a delightfully crunchy edge.

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They also don’t require chilling, which is pretty much my favorite thing to find in a cookie recipe because two hours of cookie dough chilling in the fridge usually means way too much time waiting for freshly baked cookies, as well as the inevitable consumption of about half the raw dough straight out of the fridge before it even comes close to a cookie sheet or preheated oven.

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Strawberry Sorbet

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Another humid summer day, another ice cream recipe, amiright?

I first got hooked on sorbet years ago when I tried some fancy gourmet version that my dad brought home. Like pretty much any kid, I couldn’t understand why anyone in their right mind would choose sorbet made out of fruit when instead they could have ice cream full of cream and cookie pieces and CHOCOLATE.

But then I actually tried that fancy sorbet, and I understood perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that the next day I walked down to the little corner store and bought a whole pint for myself and downed it in one sitting.

But when it’s made up mostly of fruit, that’s practically a smoothie. So I was basically being healthy.

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And while I wouldn’t recommend eating a whole batch of this strawberry sorbet at once, you can feel even better about it than that store bought version I became so addicted to because, unlike other sorbet recipes, it doesn’t call for a mind-boggling amount of sugar, instead relying on strawberry preserves for sweetness and a silky texture. Not to mention even more rich, fruity strawberry flavor.

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And bonus! You can still make this even if you don’t have an ice cream maker. It will take a lot more time and a little more energy, but the finished product is the same and you’ll still get to enjoy sorbet. It’s a win for everybody! (Including any friends or family you might have nearby when this emerges from the freezer. They’re sure to thank you heartily)

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Flourless Cocoa Chocolate Brownies

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I’m a rather haphazard baker. As much as I would love to have an orderly mis-en-place in place each time I set out in the kitchen, I’m typically too impatient and/or in too much of a rush for there to be any hope of keeping things neat and organized in the kitchen. Instead, the counters usually end up a dusty white from the layer of flour that inevitably comes to coat just about everything, and it’s not uncommon to find my work area littered with utensils, used bowls, strips of discarded parchment paper, and broken egg shells all cast hurriedly aside.

Needless to say, cleaning up is easily my least favorite part of the whole endeavor.

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But when the end result is BROWNIES, how can you even bring yourself to care about the mess? And when those brownies are all made in one stovetop pot—no large, medium, or even small bowls needed—everything just gets a little bit more awesome.

And when those brownies are also made with a kick-ass chocolate like Madecasse (chocolate that’s actually made in Madagascar), it’s kind of the best thing ever.

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I’ve got a few different brownie recipes lurking around the archives, but these are the first to be made without wheat flour or gluten, instead relying on coconut flour to do the heavy lifting. Coconut flour is a bit of a finicky ingredient, and I haven’t always been able to use it to the greatest success, but in this instance it yields a soft, tender, slightly fudgy brownie with loads of chocolate flour thanks to both the melted chocolate and the cocoa powder. In other words… SUCCESS!

Also… I realize that it’s kind of been forever since my last post (again). And that’s due to a whole laundry list of reasons, including traveling and subsequently leaving my SD card full of photos in a different country, but thankfully me and my card have been reunited and I might just be back to having reliable internet, so things should be picking up around here again, starting now.

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Super Easy Oatmeal Cookie Granola Bars

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Hey there. I’m sorry it’s been a while. But when the house you’re subletting for the summer has a communal kitchen that remains perpetually dirty, is full of empty beer cans, and smells like weed, you don’t really get around to baking too often. Plus, I’m in Washington DC for the summer, which means there are way more cool things to be doing in my free time. Like my first ever major league baseball game (!)

Which is how these crazy simple granola bars came about. Everything just gets thrown together until it all starts to stick. Press your mixture into a pan. Chill in the refrigerator. Slice, serve, and eat two bars at a time. Obviously.

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These bars are made up of some pretty basic components: whole grains, healthy fats, and natural sweeteners. I opted for a combination of oats and quinoa flakes as a base, as well as sunflower seeds and almond butter. But feel free to mix things up— any nut or seed butter will do, and dried fruits or other mix-ins are always welcome (throw in some chopped chocolate… you know you want to).

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While they stick together quite nicely, these aren’t the sturdiest of bars. Throw them in a bag at the beginning of the day for a snack later on, and you’re likely to be left with a plastic bag full of smushed granola pieces (equally delicious, but still). So keep that in mind.

As far as granola bars go, these are just about the most simple to prepare that you’re going to find. I mean honestly, they don’t even require an oven! And I haven’t really run any official price comparison or anything, but I’d be willing to guess they’re a lot cheaper than any store-bought variety as well (tip: use the bulk bin to save $$$… it’s ridiculously awesome).

Oh, and did I mention they’re delicious? Because they’re really, really delicious.

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Black Raspberry and Honey Eton Mess

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It’s summertime. Do you really want to turn on that oven?

Do you want to stand over a hot stovetop?

And let’s be real, do you even want to take the time to measure out ingredients?

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I hope you answered no to all of these questions. If you didn’t, you’re doing summer wrong. And that’s a personal problem you need to fix as soon as possible.

Naturally, the best way to avoid all these summertime annoyances is to make eton mess. In case you’re not familiar, eton mess is basically a dessert made up of whipped cream, crushed meringues, and some form of fruit. In this version, I used some black raspberries that I found tucked away in the freezer section at the grocery store and added a spoonful of honey to the mix for a touch of added sweetness and more complexity. And also because I’m obsessed with honey.

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As you likely know, quality honey is important for so many different reasons, including both health and taste. Luckily, I live near a whole store devoted to honey (!) from the Savannah Bee Company, and the variety and superb quality of honey available there just blows my mind. For this recipe, I used their Winter White Passion Fruit Honey (so dreamy) and it complemented the tartness of the raspberries perfectly, creating a stellar blend of flavors. Of course, any honey will do— just make sure it’s the best you can find!

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Though all the layers may look neat and impressive lined up in the jar, eton mess isn’t supposed to be pretty, at least not once you dig in and begin eating. There is a reason it’s called “mess” after all. Meringues get smothered in whipped cream, your four layers are ruined the second a spoon comes into play, and the whole thing winds up tinted a rather striking shade of purple before you’re even halfway done. It’s fun and it’s carefree and it’s delicious and it doesn’t require heat of any kind.

It’s summertime.

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2 Ingredient Whipped Ice Cream

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My dad asked for a shout out on the blog (because I think he likes to feel important), but in honor of a certain upcoming holiday, I’m going to do him one better. I’m going to give him whole paragraphs.

Hey Dad. How’s it going? I know we’re in different cities (again) and that you can’t wait for me to come home soon (again). And maybe you want me to come home mainly so that I can make you an apple pie for Father’s Day, because we all know Mom can’t be trusted to put enough apples in it, but that’s okay. I like making you apple pies. Especially because every time I do, you always say it’s the best one I’ve ever made (even though I use the exact same recipe every time). By now you’ve probably had Breakfast #1, and are gearing up to pretend to go to the gym while instead you go get a muffin and Breakfast #2. Please, you’re not fooling any of us.

I wish I was there to walk King St. with you. And to pretend to be embarrassed when you make your overly complicated order at Starbucks (I mean, it is kind of ridiculous). And to eat popsicles in the summer sun while you talk to anyone and everyone we come across. I think that would be a pretty swell way to kick off the week.

Oh, and Dad? Please get off Instagram. Thank you.

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As for the ice cream…well, it’s ridiculously simple, really. As someone terrified of egg tempering— primarily because I tried to do it once for an ice cream recipe and failed four straight times before I finally ran out of eggs and decided to make cookies instead—this is kind of a dream come true. It’s just two ingredients… and only 90 seconds of active time… and results in whipped, fluffy, light as air ice cream that’s basically frozen whipped cream.

And all made without any heavy cream whatsoever. 

Because apparently you can beat evaporated milk and it will thicken and expand and fill your bowl just like heavy cream. Who would have thought? Add some sugar (and vanilla if you choose), churn it up until it’s a dreamy soft serve that you could eat right then and there, stick it in the freezer, and you’ve got yourself a tub of light, creamy ice cream for as little work as you could ask for. And if that’s not perfect for summer, I don’t know what is.

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Flourless Chocolate Fudge Cake

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Things you don’t see on the blog:

The flaxseed I used in this cake was some hippie version with dried fruit in it so I had to go through and pick out tiny pieces of strawberry one by one.

When it came time to take this cake out of the pan, I realized that I hadn’t used parchment paper and so it took a good ten minutes of flipping and turning and carefully easing out this loaf inch by inch before I could free it from the pan in one piece.

To take these pictures, I had to scramble up to stand on a bar stool, where I lost my balance and nearly fell and broke my neck.

While carrying both this cake and a jar of lemon curd, I bent to pick something up and promptly dropped the jar, sending shard of glass flying and curd oozing everywhere (but who cares about the jar— I was heartbroken over the loss of perfectly good lemon curd).

The two things you should take away from this: 1) I’m pretty clumsy and 2) baking really isn’t all that glamorous. But more often than not, it results in things whose name contains both “chocolate” and “fudge,” so it’s pretty much always a win.

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Usually a flourless chocolate cake means a chocolate torte, full of butter and melted chocolate and all things good in the world. Or sometimes it involves subbing almond flour for the flour, a trick I’ve seen numerous times in order to yield a tender, delicate chocolate cake. In almost all instances, however, it does not mean using ground flaxseeds. Except today.

Much like the almond flour, flaxseeds make this cake soft, fudgy, and tender, almost like a pan of (underbaked) brownies made in a loaf pan. Then there’s the sweet potato puree, which both sweetens the cake and provides extra moisture so that it never evens comes close to being dry. I also highly recommend the chocolate chips— they really make the difference in this cake, and how could you resist little pockets of melted chocolate scattered throughout? I mean, honestly. 

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Oh, and if you want to add some chocolate frosting that you made with your leftover sweet potato puree?

Dooooo it

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