shortbread

A Rosy Midsummer

The Summer Solstice occurs near xmas in Australia, so while I’m getting ready to celebrate the longest day of the year and the shortest night, most of the stores are selling produce geared towards a winter feast day. I don’t mind, as I always look forward to the range of new shortbreads that are only available during xmas.

One of the other winter treats I used to enjoy at Summer Solstice was a Persian fruitcake filled with plump fruits and crunchy nuts and delicately flavoured with rose water. It was one of the most delicious fruitcakes I had ever tried. Every xmas I eagerly waited for the fruitcake’s arrival at the store until one year it wasn’t there and it never returned. That was almost two decades ago.

A few months ago I went for a country drive to Malmsbury Bakery, famous for its homemade Dundee cake. I was keen to try to this Scottish fruitcake as it was rumoured to be a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth II is also reported to enjoy Dundee cake at teatime. A cake fit for royalty was something I just had to have!

The cake was quite large, but I was assured that once opened, it would keep for months in an airtight container. I wasn’t sure how long it would last but I was happy to take a chance. As I cut a generous slice I noticed how large and plump the glazed cherries were, which immediately brought back memories of my cherished Persian fruitcake. I took a bite and was rewarded with the flavour and texture of one of the best fruitcakes I had ever tasted. This was as good as the Persian fruitcake.

The cake lasted weeks and I enjoyed every slice. With only a few slices left I decided to make a bold experiment. Could I add a rose water element to a slice without ruining it? I had to try. At first I was going to sprinkle rose water over a slice but I decided to make a rose water icing instead. I simply mixed icing (powdered) sugar with rose water until it was thick enough to drizzle and then drizzled it over my slice of fruitcake. While it wasn’t my coveted Persian fruitcake, it was floral and delicious and brought back many happy memories of solstices past.

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In keeping with the xmas spirit I also dunked a few pieces of shortbread into the rose water icing and then let them set. Happily they were a delicious success as well.

Happy Solstice!

Invitation To A Funeral

Dracula author Bram Stoker died 103 years ago on April 20th. Twice a year, on Bram’s birthday and death day, I think about the author and his infamous vampire creation Count Dracula; two of the greatest influences on my life. This deathiversary got me thinking about death and cookies, two other great influences on my life 🙂

Stoker lived most of his life in the Victorian era. One of the most obvious themes in the novel Dracula is the exploration of the strict and repressive Victorian attitudes toward sexuality. But Dracula is also an exploration of Victorian attitudes to death and mourning. After all, Queen Victoria is as famous for her strict codes of morality as for her role as the “widow of Windsor”.

After the death of her beloved husband, Queen Victoria wore nothing but black for the rest of her life. Mourning jewellery became fashionable, and jewellery containing the hair of dead loved ones was popular. Queen Victoria particularly favoured jewellery made from Whitby jet for her mourning dress. Is it a coincidence that Dracula first lands in Whitby when he travels to England or is it a nod to the Victorian Queen’s favourite mourning gemstone? I don’t know. What I do know is that during Queen Victoria’s reign, mourning became an art in itself. And that brings us to cookies!

Funeral cookies have a long history and are part of the customs related to eating food for the dead. Funeral cookies were essentially edible offerings that were handed out at funerals. They could be eaten at the funeral to honour the dead, eaten as snacks on the way home from the funeral or given as treats to those who couldn’t attend the funeral. They could also be kept as mementoes of the day.

In Victorian times, homemade cookies were replaced by bakeries who offered made to order products on short notice. The evolution of printing technology allowed bakers the opportunity to package cookies in creative ways. Cookies could be wrapped in ornate wrappings containing printed information such as the funeral notice for the deceased, biblical quotes or poems. The Funeral cookies could then be used as funeral invitations with all the funeral details printed on the wrapper. If you were particularly peckish, you could even snack on them on the way to the funeral!

I loved the quaint idea of a cookie wrapped in a funeral invitation so much that I decided to make my own version of traditional funeral cookies. My version is a shortbread style cookie flavoured with caraway seeds, which are a traditional spice in old-style cookies. I have added rosemary as it symbolises remembrance and is therefore associated with remembering and honouring the dead. I have also used a cookie stamp to give them an ornate appearance.

Funeral Cookies

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Ingredients
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornflour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
180g unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely
extra cornflour for dusting biscuit stamp

Instructions
Mix together the flour, cornflour, salt and caraway seeds.
In a separate bowl cream together the butter, icing sugar and rosemary until smooth.
Add the flour mixture and beat until combined.
Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Roll dough mixture into balls.
Press into biscuit stamp lightly dusted with cornflour.
Place on prepared trays.
Continue until all mixture is used.
Place trays in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 150C / 300F
Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Allow to cool briefly before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.