Thursday, December 13, 2012

Frankincense Shortbread Cookies

Frankincense flavor is no stranger to pastry. Thailand is famous for Kanom Kleeb Lumdual, an ornate shortbread cookie flavored with a variety of aromatics traditionally associated with incense (including frankincense). The pastry is perfumed with fragrant smoke produced by a u-shaped culinary candle called a Tian Op. It's a poetic process, but it isn't the best way to add flavor if you want to taste what's perfuming the smoke. Incorporating a touch of food grade essential oil of frankincense will add a palatable nuance that is nothing short of divine.

Frankincense, like mastic, possesses minty, evergreen, and citrus notes; aspects are sublimated when frankincense is burned as incense. These fleeting qualities blossom in shortbread cookie formulas and are subtly detected in the finish. There is an art to dosing essential oils to create this effect, one that is counter intuitive. Less is more as there is a fine line between eliciting "this is so delicious" and "what the heck did you put in my food" when using food grade essential oils.

 If you've added the right amount of frankincense the effect will be delicately transcendent. Glass Petal Smoke's recipe for Frankincense Shortbread Cookies does not include vanilla and that is intentional. The only flavoring agents are food grade essential oil of frankincense and a Jordanian liquor flavored with mastic, anise and herbs.

Frankincense Shortbread Cookies
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Yield: 70 cookies

2 ¼ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ tsp sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter (two sticks, room temperature)
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp Arak Haddad Mastic (a Middle Eastern liquor)
1-2 drops Aftelier Organic Frankincense Chef's Essence (a food grade essential oil)

·      Divide the oven rack into thirds and preheat to 325 degrees.
·      Prep two cookie trays by lining them with parchment paper. Set aside.
·      Sift flour, powdered sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl.
·      Soften butter in a small glass bowl in the microwave so it is creamy in consistency (not warm or transparent). Use a fork to smooth it out.
·      Add Arak Haddad Mastic and food grade essential oil of frankincense to the butter and mix thoroughly. If you would like to use more frankincense do it one drop at a time, tasting the butter with each additional drop. The essence should be slightly noticeable; not intense or overbearing.
·      Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and incorporate with a spatula. Once everything is roughly combined use your hands to mix the dough. Work the dough gently. When coarse crumbs begin to form work the dough thoroughly with your hands. Form a large bowl of dough when you are finished.
·      Roll teaspoon sized balls of dough by hand and place them on a cookie sheet in rows of five (there will be seven rows per sheet). Gently press each cookie with the end of a drinking glass so the oval formed by hand rolling at the center of the cookie is flat. Each ball of dough should be no bigger than one inch on the cookie sheet.
·      The baking time for these cookies is 20-25 minutes and includes turning the trays from top to bottom every 6 minutes as this shortbread formulas isn’t leavened and doesn’t include eggs. The cookies will be faintly tan around the edges when they are ready, and you will smell the butter just before it starts to brown.
·      Remove cookie trays from the oven and allow the cookies to cool down before placing them on wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

The dough used to make this shortbread can be flavored many ways and is especially suitable for baking with food grade essential oils as the fat content is high (great for even distribution of flavor, acts as a carrier) and the oven temperature is under 350 degrees (discourages evaporation of highly volatile molecules in essential oils that are responsible for flavor).

Aftelier's Frankincense Chef's Essence costs $12 for 5ml; a great price and just the right amount for a few rounds of baking.

Food grade essential oils that are "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA (section 582.20 of the FDA code) are not the essential oils sold in health food stores intended to be worn as perfume. If you are going to use food grade essential oils check the FDA GRAS list regularly and buy essential oils that are designated for baking and cooking. These materials are typically diluted between 1-3 % to make alcohol-based flavor extracts in the flavor industry, which is why one to three drops of food grade essential oil in a recipe will suffice.

FDA CFR Title 21, Part 172, Section 172.510: Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption shows the genus and species of an ingredient which can be consumed and includes a limitations column for prohibitions based on particular constituents. Frankincense is also known as olibanum and can be found in this section of the FDA code with this nomenclature.

*Arak is an anise-based digestif common in the Middle East. Arak Haddad Mastic (distributed by Eagle Distillery) is made in Jordan and has a well rounded flavor as the anise is supported by mastic and herbs. If you cannot find this type of arak at your local liquor store a regular one will do, but you might want to use 2 tablespoons only and/or play with the balance of frankincense to tone the anisic quality that defines arak. If you like digestifs you can purchase Skinos MastihaSpirit (mastic liquor) and add a teaspoon of it to any basic arak and voila; you can duplicate the results had you been able to find a bottle of Arak Haddad Mastic. You can also tincture mastic resin in 190 proof alcohol and use a few drops of the mother tincture (at least 30 days old) in this recipe.