Nuts are our ingredient of the season. You can see our full archive of nut posts here!
We have the perfect treat to compliment all of the sugar and chocolate that is sure to be passed around this weekend : black walnut shortbread cookies. Sure, shortbread cookies have quite a bit of butter, but a little fat never hurts, and with only a half cup of sugar in this batch, they help to balance those peep and jellybean filled baskets.
Since we’re all about nuts this season, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to talk about walnut varieties. If you’re eating a walnut right now, chances are it’s an English walnut, also known as a common, Persian, and California walnut. That variety is native to the Eastern hemisphere from China through parts of the Middle East (where it’s Persian name comes from), was spread throughout the world on English trading ships (thus the English moniker), and by the 1700s was being grown in groves in California! If you’ve eaten a walnut, it’s likely that it was the milder common walnut rather than the black walnut used in today’s recipe.
Black walnuts are native to North America, specifically the riparian zones of eastern and central US. In addition to the nuts, the trees are valued for their dark and strong hardwood. The tree’s nuts have a stronger/bolder flavor than English walnuts, and it really comes through in a simple recipe like this, where you are just combining the nuts with a few basic ingredients. Processing black walnuts is more difficult than the European variety, and it is believed that this difference is what led to the success of the European walnut. It is fairly difficult to break open the large green fruit of the black walnut in order to access the walnut’s meat within it. Machinery is used for large-scale commercial operations, but an individual wanting to harvest nuts from a tree in their backyard has to get creative. One method that I came across numerous times was spreading the green fruit across a drive way and allowing cars to drive across them for a few days to break open the fruit. Once the fruit has been cracked, it has to be pried off, and if done by hand, this process will dye your hands black. Not surprisingly, black walnuts are known for staining cars, porches, sidewalks, etc, and are intentionally used as a dye for different crafts.
Back to this recipe. It’s one of those crazy simple treats that can be thrown together in no time (they’re easier than most cookies because you don’t have to form each individual cookie or bar), and they add a bit of sophistication to any dessert table. If you don’t have black walnuts, don’t let that stop you from making a batch; it’s absolutely fine to substitute English walnuts. Of course, if you’re intrigued and want to sample black walnuts, there are a number of options for ordering online, including Hammons. The recipe below is based on this recipe by Martha, and she uses orange zest, which I also think would be delicious, but I was without an orange. After reading Girl’s Gone Child’s post about cardamom coffee, I’ve had the spice on my mind and decided to add just a touch to this recipe. You can do the same, experiment with another spice, use some orange zest, or skip the extra flavor all together.
When it comes to serving, I think these shortbread are delicious on their own, but you could also serve them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream… do you see all of those crumbs made while cutting? I saved mine for my evening bowl of ice cream (pregnancy shegnancy, it’s a good idea whether you’re growing a baby or not!). These also make a great mid-morning treat with a cup of tea.
- 1 cup black walnuts (you can substitute regular old walnuts)
- 2 sticks butter at room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Toast the walnuts until they are golden brown and fragrant, being careful not to burn them. Make sure to let them COOL completely before adding them to the batter as instructed below.
- In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Reduce the mixer to speed to low before adding the flour, salt, and cardamom. Stir in the cool walnuts.
- Press the batter into two 8 inch square baking pans or one 15 x 10 inch jelly roll pan, like this, and bake for 25 minutes. Allow the shortbread to cool completely before slicing.
See that? So easy! If you don’t make these for the holiday weekend, keep them in mind the next time you need a simple cookie dessert.