Many months ago I purchased a sampler set of flavored salts on an impulse. The names and colors drew me in: Murray River Pink, Bolivia Sunset, and Red Alaea. Since then I've sampled all twelve salts in the set, and my favorite - the supply that is quickly dwindling - is the flavorful brown-black grains of Applewood Smoked Sea Salt. It lends a smoky, almost bacon-like richness to anything it touches. If you love the flavor of Applewood bacon, then you may want to pick up a pinch tin. It's good on just about anything!
I've had the idea to use this salt on shortbread ever since I first tasted it. I just knew it would be fantastic on top of a slightly sweet, butter-rich cookie. And oh, it is!
How fun are these streaky bacon slices? I learned how to make bacon cookies from Jennifer when she made bacon sugar cookies. I was happy to find the technique also works with shortbread dough. If you're into making your cookies look like bacon too, then be sure to take a look at her dough stacking technique. I followed it loosely, and was pleased to find my cross section of shortbread looking so... bacony!
Once the slab of "meat" was assembled, I sprinkled on the Applewood salt and some freshly ground black pepper. The sliced dough yields a well-balanced cookie, with the salt and pepper crust just at one edge. I love the playfulness of this treat, but it's really delicious too. The recipe is based on the Scottish shortbread recipe in the Sprinkle Bakes book.
If you chill the shortbread slices in the freezer for about 10 minutes, they'll hold their shape well during baking. The cookies are done when the edges turn slightly golden, which I think gives them an even more realistic appearance. If you can't find Applewood Smoked Sea Salt locally, then you can order it here, or the entire sampler set I purchased can be found here.
These cookies made us giggle and hoot and brought out our inner practical jokers. Make them if you're in need of a delicious treat or just a smile.
PS. If you're looking for a winter holiday or Christmasy version of bacon cookies, then you simply must see these speculoos cookies - amazing!
Applewood Bacon Shortbread Cookies
[click for printable version]
Yields about 2 1/2 dozen cookies
The key to making great shortbread is using the best quality butter you can find. Applewood smoked salt can be found in kitchen specialty stores and online.
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon salt
Wilton Burgundy gel food color
Wilton Brown gel food color
Liquid red food color
Applewood Smoked Sea Salt, in fine grain
Ground black pepper
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and mix again until well incorporated.
Add the vanilla extract and mix again.
Add 2 cups of the flour, and the salt, and mix on low speed until a dough forms. Add the remianing 2 cups of flour and mix again on low speed until a very stiff dough forms.
Divide the dough into 4 even portions. Place one portion back in the mixing bowl and add some of the burgundy and brown gel food color. Mix well. Add food color as needed to create a dark brownish-red color; add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time if the dough gets too sticky to handle; set aside.
Tint a second portion of dough in the same way, but use less of each food color so that it is slightly lighter than the previous batch.
Tint a third portion of dough with a small amount of brown food color and a few drops of liquid red food color to create a light pinkish-brown color.
Leave the fourth portion of dough untinted.
Flatten 3/4 of the untinted dough into a rough rectangular shape, about 1/2 inch thick. Flatten and stack the two lighter colors of dough alternately on top. Add the remaining untinted portion in random pieces on top (this creates another "fat streak" in the dough"). Finally, add the darkest portion of dough.
Flip the dough over so that the untinted portion is on top. Sprinkle with Applewood Smoked Salt and black pepper. Chill the dough in the refrigerator until firm, about 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Slice the shortbread dough into long even rashers, about 1/4-inch thick. Carefully transfer them to the cookie sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies turn golden brown. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets until they are firm enough to move to a wire cooling rack. When the cookies are completely cooled, transfer them to an airtight container.
Note: I have made this with rendered bacon fat added to the dough. If you'd like to try it, add 1/4 cup chilled bacon fat to the butter mixture and 1/4 cup of flour.