Buttery rectangles of shortbread meet the rich chocolate drizzle with a hint of booze.
Bourbon is an unlikely teacher. In the past few months, it's taught me multitudes about vulnerability, speaking up and going against the majority.
When I first joined a whiskey club a few months ago, I was nervous that I'd stick out. I was invited to the selective group by a cocktail savvy friend and I had no idea what to expect. I loved the brown spirit, sure, but my knowledge was limited to a few mid-range varieties and the updates I got from my Maker's Mark Ambassador emails. I wasn't versed in the nuances of rye, Scotch and bourbon. In fact, I even worried about posting in the group on Facebook for fear I'd use the wrong spelling of whiskey/whisky.
Meetings aren't particularly complicated--we review five selections as a group, evaluating color, body, aroma, taste and price by a show of hands and a cannonade of shouts and opinions. However, having tried only a spattering of varieties, at the first meeting, I was afraid to raise my voice and add my suggestions because I couldn't parse out specific flavor notes (geranium?! tobacco leaf?! Where did they get that from? Were we drinking the same bourbon?!) While it seemed like everyone gathered in the forty person crowd could easily differentiate between oak and cedar, even if I had spoken up, the best I could do was shout out, "WOOD! I taste wood!"
At my second meeting, the group's size shrunk sizably. Rather than filling an apartment, we filled a living room with twenty five or so folks. This meant easy eye contact with everyone in the room. It also meant opinions could be heard more easily, which somehow made speaking up far less intimidating. I found myself blurting out the first things that came to mind, sometimes wordy and off-the-wall comparisons or song lyrics (color? "Amber is the color of your energy." body? "It's got legs like Beyonce"). At my first meeting, I was intimidated by the thought of giving my opinion in a room full of whisky/whiskey (still haven't got it down) aficionados, but with a smaller group, the thought of staying silent was silly, especially after I got nods of agreement and a few laughs.
This month's meeting was even smaller. The theme was Scotch, and whether the smokey spirit deterred people from attending, I don't know. However, even with a limited number of people it was surprisingly difficult to get a consensus, meaning everyone (including me) shared their opinions freely. The robust presence of peat and bold flavors divided the group on which bottles they'd be likely to buy on their own and how much they would be willing to pay. It was exciting and entertaining to hear the different reactions to each Scotch and made for a refreshing meeting.
After the tastings were over, I found myself in a small group of people. As with any social interaction among people who don't know each other well, we talked about topics that we could all agree on to keep the conversation flowing. A few minutes in, the subject shifted and someone introduced a subject I was passionate about with a dismissive remark. I stood silently for a few moments, wondering whether I should disrupt the harmony of the conversation by voicing an objection, or if I should just nod and try to steer the conversation to something else.
Surprising myself, I spoke up. A few months ago, I would have gone with the silent route, tried to change the subject, or nodded politely in agreement, which is exactly what the group was expecting. My words made everyone pause for a moment as they absorbed what I had to say, and the conversation expanded beyond surface pleasantries and let us go a little deeper and talk about our backgrounds. It felt liberating to state my opinion at the risk of rejection (and obviously great that my opinion wasn't dismissed!).
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.” -Brene Brown
That's the beauty of vulnerability. It can be something as small as blurting out the first thing that comes to mind when you taste something new for the first time, even if it sounds silly. It can mean voicing your passion for college basketball to people who don't share your enthusiasm and hoping you don't kill the conversation. Or, it can be something as frightening as opening up to someone you care about, telling them how you feel and hoping they don't respond with rejection or dismiss your feelings. Putting your truth forward and sitting in uncertainty as you await a reaction is always a risk, but the reward of vulnerability is learning to embrace discomfort, knowing your worth and leaving behind the wonder of what-ifs and the worry of regret, even if you don't get your desired outcome.
I made this Scottish shortbread for our last whiskey club meeting, which was all about Scotch. For the drizzle, I used a chocolate bourbon that wasn't so popular at our last meeting. It was met with almost unanimous disapproval as a drinking whiskey, but as soon as I mentioned baking with it, it found its redemption. The shortbread recipe comes from a piece posted in the New York Times (and, coincidentally, several blogs claiming it as their grandma's recipe). The bourbon drizzle is my own invention and elevates these buttery cookies to new depths with a rich chocolate contrast. Despite disagreement over Scotch at our last whiskey club, these Scottish shortbread were a unanimous hit!
Scottish Shortbread with Chocolate Bourbon Drizzle
For the shortbread:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the chocolate bourbon drizzle
- 2 oz semi- or bittersweet chocolate (I used 60%)
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon corn syrup
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chocolate bourbon
- Preheat oven to 300F.
- Sift together the flour, sugar and salt into a medium bowl.
- Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Press the mixture into a ball and knead a few times to get it all to come together. (Alternatively, you can combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it just begins to come together).
- Add the dough to a cookie sheet and press out into a large rectangle, approximately 1/4" thick. Prick the entire surface with the tines of a fork and then cut into rectangles.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes and remove from the oven, re-cut the squares and set on a cooling rack.
- While the cookies cool, chop the chocolate and add to a medium bowl. Add the heavy cream to a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 45 seconds or until the cream just begins to bubble. Pour the cream over the chocolate and whisk vigorously to melt the chocolate. Once it's combined, whisk in the corn syrup and bourbon and drizzle over the shortbread.