I am on vacation in the UK now, traveling about the islands in the Orkney chain off the north coast of Scotland. These islands are remarkable both for their breathtaking natural beauty and wealth of major archaeological sites.
|View from Hackness Battery, island of Hoy|
|Cattle grazing on the Orkney Mainland island|
|Sheep grazing on the island of Sanday|
|Skara Brae Neolithic Village, Mainland, Orkney|
|Interior of a Skara Brae family "home."|
Many Orkney vistas feature water--from the ample scattering of bright blue lochs inland to harbors and the miles of rocky coastline that meet the north Atlantic and North Sea. Due to the coastal waters, plus salmon farms, most islands are also home to some fishermen.
|Stromness harbor, Mainland, Orkney|
|Creel pots, Tingwall Pier, Mainland, Orkney|
|Brown crabs on Pierowall Pier, Westray, Orkney|
Called brown crabs (no surprise!) they don't look or taste quite like the Chesapeake bay blue crabs we're so familiar with, but are quite good. The shot was taken just as the Westray island crabbers were transferring them from their boats to tubs headed for the processing plant right across the road from the Pierowall pier.
Petticoat Tails Shortbread
Most of the hotels and B & Bs in the Orkney islands have been setting out shortbread on our tea tray everyday--and we have been happily munching away! So it seems appropriate to conclude with this shortbread adapted from my International Cookie Cookbook. As is typical, it is rich and buttery, yet mild and barely sweet. I like to add a bit of vanilla, even though traditional recipes rarely call for it. Long, slow baking heightens the butter flavor and gives the slices a faint tawny color. The homespun petticoat tails have a slightly tender-crunchy, melt-in-the-mouth texture and, like most shortbreads, go quite well with a cup of tea.
How shortbread baked in a round and cut into wedges came to be named petticoat tails is somewhat of a mystery. Some say it references the hoop skirts of early English court ladies; others think it’s a corruption of the French “petite galettes,” or little cakes. Choice one is more entertaining and fanciful, so I'm leaning in that direction.
1 cup (2 sticks) cool and firm unsalted butter, cut into chunks
7 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Generous 1/4 teaspoon fine table salt
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Place a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 300 degrees F. Set out a 10-inch fluted tart pan or 10- to 11-inch pie plate. (If using a pie plate, line it with foil that overhangs 2 inches on opposing sides.) Set out a large ungreased baking sheet.
Combine the butter, all but 1 tablespoon sugar (reserve the 1 tablespoon for garnish), the vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. With a mixer on medium speed, beat about 2 minutes or until very well blended and lightened in color, scraping down the bowl as needed. On low speed, beat in the flour until evenly incorporated. If the mixer motor labors, knead in the last of the flour with your hands. If the dough is dry and crumbly knead in a teaspoon or two of water.
Press the dough evenly into the tart pan or pie plate: If using the tart pan finish the dough edges by pushing it into the fluted indentations; be sure the dough edge is evenly thick all the way around. If using a foil-lined pie plate, press the dough evenly into the bottom and out to the edges until it is evenly thick at the perimeter. With the tines of a fork or the dowel-like side of a wooden spoon handle, press decorative indentations into the dough edge all the way around.
Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar evenly over the dough surface. Smooth the dough surface and imbed the sugar by laying a sheet of wax paper over top, then smoothing out and pressing down with your fingertips. With a table knife, carefully cut the dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into 4 or 5 wedges.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the shortbread is fragrant and not quite firm when pressed in the center top. Let the pan cool for about 20 minutes on a wire rack; the shortbread is too tender to handle will hot. When cool, carefully retrace the cuts if necessary. Gently lift out the shortbread wedges and place, slightly separated, on the baking sheet. Return to the oven for 15 to 20 minutes longer, just until the wedges just start to color slightly all over. Transfer to a wire rack; let stand until completely cooled. Keep airtight at room temperature for up to 3 weeks. Freeze airtight for up to 2 months.
Makes 16 or 20 petticoat tails (wedges).
|View from Aynhallow Sound of Rousay harbor.|