Forty years ago, Ina Garten tasted shortbread that she’s thought about for decades. The recipe came from Eli Zabar, owner of E.A.T., a New York City restaurant known for its pastries. “I remember thinking, This is the perfect shortbread,” she said of the recipe. “I've used it for so many things, including a tart crust for a raspberry tart.” Yes, that famous raspberry tart from her first cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa.
In this recipe from her new cookbook, Go-To Dinners, Garten adds autumnal flavors to the buttery cookie. “I like spices that you aren’t quite sure what it is, but it’s familiar in some way,” she said. That’s exactly what the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove is doing in these star-shaped cookies. When they’re hot and fresh out of the oven, the apple-pie spices fill your home with warm aromas, enticing anyone within a mile radius to come into the kitchen. In Garten’s case, that would be her husband Jeffrey.
“Oh, he’s the worst. He’s just the worst,” she said. “Whatever I make he thinks is the best thing he’s ever had, so he’s never the taster.” Instead, Garten relies on herself when testing recipes.
“I'm not just looking for the flavor and the texture,” she said. “I'm looking for some edge that kind of wakes everything up." She remembers a time when she was making a simple lentil soup. “I thought it was close, but it was kind of missing something,” she said. “I just wandered to the refrigerator and pulled out some red wine vinegar and added just a splash to the huge pot. And that was it.”
Once she finishes a recipe, she hands it off to her team to see how they interpret it. “I'll have both of my assistants make it, and I'll watch them because they may do things that I wouldn't have expected from the written page,” she said. This cookbook, her 13th, is all about uncomplicated recipes and easy, make-ahead meals inspired by cooking during the pandemic.
One version of the shortbread cookies had cardamom—”more of a Scandinavian thing,” she said—but the more she tested it, the less it worked. “The different cardamoms that I got, they tasted different.” Instead, she stuck with classic fall spices that bring a familiar, cozy warmth.
When asked if she had any advice for someone making this recipe, her answer was comically simple. “Follow the recipe!” she said with a laugh. “Everybody goes, ‘Oh, I don’t have any heavy cream, so I’ll use skim milk’ or ‘I don’t have any chocolate, so I’ll use sardines instead.’”
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