Cacio e Pepe Shortbread by Charlotte Druckman (Genius Desserts)
This is a shortbread cookie that doesn’t quite know if it’s sweet or savory, and in my experience, it doesn’t matter. Every time I set wedges of it out, I explain nothing—at first. Lurkers swarm and empty the plate, without stopping to wonder what genre of snack they’re eating.
The recipe comes from the mind of Charlotte Druckman, author of Stir, Sizzle, Bake, a cookbook full of novel ways to use your cast-iron skillet—including this borderline psychedelic one. Druckman was inspired by Blue Bottle Coffee pastry chef Caitlin Freeman’s shortbread dough–whipping technique and chef Mark Ladner’s feisty cacio e pepe; she wondered what would happen if she were to graft a pasta recipe onto a shortbread.
She worked in not only the cheeses (cacio) and the black pepper (pepe) but also dried pasta’s traditional semolina flour, which gives the shortbread a hint of warm, wheaty, pasta-like flavor, as well as a softness and a tight, fine-crumb structure. She then baked in one more round of crisp outer texture and toasty flavor by pressing the dough (carefully!) into a hot cast-iron skillet, brushing the top with olive oil, and sprinkling more pepper and cheese over it. Snack on it with your afternoon coffee or aperitifs—Prosecco, Bellinis, rosé, or whatever you like to drink at cocktail hour.
MAKES 10 TO 12 WEDGES
1⁄2 cup plus 2 teaspoons (40g) finely grated Parmesan cheese, using the small holes of a box grater
1⁄2 cup plus 2 teaspoons (40g) finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, using the small holes of a box grater
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup (225g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1⁄2 cup (60g) confectioners’ sugar
1 1⁄4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1⁄2 cups (190g) all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup (80g) semolina flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Heat the oven to 350°F (175°C), with a 10-inch (25cm) cast-iron skillet on the center rack. Stir together 2 teaspoons each of the Parmesan and Pecorino and 1 teaspoon of the pepper in a small bowl.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-low speed until it’s smooth, creamy, and fluffy like cake frosting, about 1 minute. Add the sugar, salt, and the remaining 1 teaspoon of pepper and stir until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula as needed.
3. Turn the speed to medium and mix until the mixture takes on a thick, creamy, almost mayonnaise-like texture, 4 to 5 minutes more. Add the flours and stir on low speed until just incorporated. Add the remaining 1⁄2 cup (35g) Parmesan and 1⁄2 cup (35g) Pecorino and mix on low for 1 minute. Scrape the dough together to form a ball.
4. Take the hot skillet out of the oven and set it on the stovetop or other heat-safe surface. Brush the skillet with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Nudge the dough into the skillet and, using the spatula or your fingers (but being careful of the hot pan), flatten the dough into the skillet, pushing it out evenly to the edges. Brush with the remaining 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil. Sprinkle the dough with the cheese-pepper mixture and transfer back to the oven. (Don’t forget the handle will still be hot!)
5. Bake the shortbread until the edges begin to brown, 18 to 23 minutes. The middle should be cooked through but still a bit soft, as it will firm up as it cools. Set the pan on the stovetop or other heat-safe surface and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Using a plate, carefully invert the pan and flip the shortbread out, then flip it once more onto another plate so it’s right side up. Alternately, you can serve straight from the pan. Let cool completely.
6. To serve, cut the shortbread into 10 to 12 wedges. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Excerpted from Food52’s Genius Desserts by Kristen Miglore (Ten Speed Press). Copyright © 2018. Photography by James Ransom