Lemon Shortbread Cookies
I mentioned before that as a kid I worked in the restaurant at our local Holiday Inn. I was a busboy during my time there and the best part of that job was… well… um… ok, so there is no really good part of that job. Basically you just schlep dirty dishes all day long. Yeah, there’s no glamor in that… at all. But that’s not to say I didn’t have fun. The people there were really great. The morning chef Eric, a big British man, was super funny and every once in a while, (usually if someone was having a bad day) he would bake a batch of really fantastic scones for the staff to eat. He would dance while he cooked and he would often yell out “¡Ándele! ¡Ándele!... Pacoima!” when orders sat in the window too long. He was the first person who taught me the correct order of a club sandwich and when it was slow, he would allow me behind the counter to cook my own breakfast, mostly so he could take a break. The waitresses who worked the weekend morning shifts were also super great. There were three waitresses: Kay, the brassy one who was always ready with a quick and funny remark on just about anything; Priscilla, the petit, somewhat demure one (with a heart of gold) who just wanted to please everybody and make everything just right; and Joyce, the serious one, who took her job very seriously and would definitely point out that the toast you just picked up from the toaster was for her customer, and that you had better put it back. Each of these women had regular customers that would specifically request to be seated in one of their sections and they would wait even if there were plenty of open tables in other areas. There were also people who would request the opposite, in that they would ask not to be seated in a specific waitresses section (I guess they must have had a bad experience at some point). As busboys there were not specific sections for us and we worked the entire dining room. So, one day (it was Easter) Kay and Priscilla had purchased several bags of jellybeans and decided that they were going to place a few jellybeans on the saucer under the coffee cups. The idea was: as customers sat down we would start by saying… “Hey, so we heard some people saying they saw the Easter bunny this morning, did you?”. Then we would offer them coffee at which time the customer would have to pick up their upside down coffee cup, revealing the jellybeans... hilarity would ensue, as we would gasp exaggeratedly in disbelief. It sounds stupid and silly, I know, and Joyce was right there to tell us that in fact it was a bad idea and that no one was going to think it was funny or even be the slightest bit amused. Undeterred, Kay and Priscilla (and us busboys) went ahead and slipped a jellybean or two under the coffee cups each time we set the table, but only in those two waitresses sections. As the first early bird customers sat down, Kay started talking about the Easter bunny and how she saw it hop over the buffet and so on, she then offered the coffee and there was genuine laughter when the cup was turned over. Kay really sold it! It was so great to hear her tale that soon the busboys would pass by and add something to the story, and it started to get a bit bigger and bigger in scope. Soon the hostess was telling people to be on the look out as she sat a few more early morning customers. So, not to be outdone, and what I suspect, just wanting to be included in some of the (now obvious) fun, Joyce raced to the market across the street during the short break before we re-opened for the big Easter Sunday Brunch. She couldn’t find jellybeans however and so she bought chocolate covered peanuts and as soon as she got back she slid one under each of her coffee cups. It was about a half hour later that we opened for brunch and there were just a few customers waiting to be seated. The first customer requested Kay’s section and the second customer requested Priscilla’s section. As they were each being seated I chatted (loudly enough to be overheard) with another busboy about the Easter bunny being spotted on the premises somewhere. The hostess added her piece of the story and then Kay finished with her part. When the customer turned their cup over we all looked at each other in our previously rehearsed exaggerated bewilderment and everyone had a good laugh. Same thing happened with Priscilla’s table as well. When customers were finally seated in Joyce’s section we all told the same story, built up the same anticipation and then Joyce went to pour the coffee. Lifting the cup from the saucer revealed not a shiny, colorful jellybean but a single peanut sitting forlornly in a brown pool of chocolate. There was a moment of silence as we looked at the saucer, then looked at the lights over the table, then looked at the 40 or more unturned coffee cups on the other tables. We quickly tried to figure out where this bunny story was going to go from there. I think it was Joyce who finally said… “Stupid Easter Bunny!” as she picked up the saucers and handed them to us to take away. That seemed to break the awkward moment and even got the customer to laugh. We had no choice but to repeat an alternate version of the story at a few more of Joyce’s tables that had since been seated. After that, we quickly removed the other cups and added jellybeans. Upon hearing of this, Kay, Priscilla as well as the other busboys, kitchen staff, management, front desk folks, maids, and the lady who was making the potato salad for the buffet all had a good laugh. We worked that bunny story the entire day, building on it, changing it, even recounting to some customers the sad situation that happened in the “other section” claiming that, “that bunny” must have been in a very bad mood. When kids were at the table and they discovered the jellybeans you could hear the clatter of all the cups and saucers, glasses, plates and silver as they picked up everything on the table searching for more. It was a stupid, silly idea, but it turned out to be a lot of fun and it made a very long day bearable. For our regular customers it reminded them that there was a reason they chose to come to a hotel dining room for Sunday brunch… because having a favorite restaurant where you feel welcome and comfortable is definitely one of the best things about food.
So, since Easter Sunday is just days away (and it’s also April Fools Day this year!) I thought I would share with you this nice, iced, lemon shortbread cookie. I think it is a perfect springtime cookie (if I could make jelly beans I would have shared that… but, oh well). This is basically just a simple lemon shortbread cookie, which I found in Bon Appetit magazine that I decided to ice (see the original recipe here). If you’re not into the icing part, that’s cool, I only iced them because it was Easter! If you do want to ice them, using a piping bag (or zip lock bags) makes it easy. You can cut them out in any shape you want (I used an egg shape today) but whatever you use, try for about a 2 to 2½-inch cookie cutter. And, if you secretly make them and want to hide them somewhere claiming the Easter Bunny was seen around, that’s entirely up to you!
For the cookies:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons (packed) finely grated lemon peel
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
Pinch of kosher salt
For the Icing:
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons milk
Food colorings of your choice – Gel food coloring recommended
For the Cookies:
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or an electric mixer) beat the butter and the powdered sugar on medium speed until smooth.
Add the lemon peel and the vanilla and mix until well blended.
Add the flour and the salt and beat on low speed, just until blended.
Place the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press it into a disk.
Place another large piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough (to make rolling easier) and roll the dough out until it is ¼ inch thick.
Place the dough, still wrapped, on to a baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F with racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, place on the work surface and remove the top piece of plastic wrap.
Cut out cookies with any shaped cookie cutter you like that is about 2 to 2½-inches in diameter and dipped in flour.
Remove the cookies from the bottom piece of plastic and place on the prepared baking sheets about 1 to 1½-inches apart.
Reroll the dough scraps again to ¼-inch thickness and cut out additional cookies.
Note: If you are not icing the cookies sprinkle the tops of cookies lightly with a little granulated sugar (about 2 teaspoons total).
Refrigerate the cookies on the pans for 10 minutes.
Bake the cookies until they are lightly brown on the bottom and are just starting to turn golden around the edges, about 15 minutes, rotating pans about half way through baking.
Move the cookies to a wire rack and allow them to cool completely.
For the Icing:
Whisk together the powdered sugar, the corn syrup vanilla extract and 3 tablespoons of milk in a large mixing bowl until the icing is well combined. The icing should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon after lifting the whisk from the bowl and should take a few seconds before dissolving back into the rest of the icing. Add more milk, in half teaspoonful’s, only if the icing is too thick or similarly add more powdered sugar if the icing is too thin.
Divide the icing into separate bowls to make different colors and add food coloring as desired or as directed by the manufacturer.
Place the colored icing into piping bags fitted with small round tips and pipe the icing evenly onto each cookie as desired. Alternately, place the colored icing into zip lock bags with the very tip of one corner snipped off and decorate as desired.
Allow the cookies to sit at least 8 hours, but preferably overnight, for the icing to fully harden before storing in an airtight container.